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Parking stations push out parking meters



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Joan Truckenbrod of suburban Chicago knew exactly where to plug in the dollars in Fontana's new parking system.

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July 06, 2011 | 07:51 AM
Fontana — Diane Kersten and Donna Stephens of Woodstock, Ill., seemed to have the worst luck parking in Fontana early on a recent Saturday afternoon.

The Woodstock, Ill., women were in town for a friend's memorial get-together at nearby Chuck's tavern on June 25. They parked in Lot 3, and marched up to the parking station in the center of the lot with an air of confidence.

And then, human and machine simply didn't connect. Diane punched in the parking space number, inserted $1, good for an hour of parking, but failed to punch enter before hitting the receipt button. She got a receipt reading "$1 invalid for parking."

"What does that mean?" she asked. It meant she lost the dollar.

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The two women dug into their purses looking for another dollar or two. Diane quickly found another bill, while Donna extracted another dollar and 10 cents from her purse, coin by coin.

Diane pushed the combination of quarters, dimes and nickels into the slot, and got a receipt for $2 parking, even though the two women put in a total of $2.10, not counting the $1 invalid for parking.

Rich Hoagland of Lake Geneva thought he'd followed all the instructions carefully. But, later, Hoagland learned he forgot to push the receipt button, which validates everything else that's put into the machine, including the money or credit card.

Almost cited for illegal parking, Hoagland talked with Community Services Officer Hannah Hooper, who does parking enforcement. Hooper was able to verify that Hoagland was legally parked.

Hoagland had nothing but praise for Hooper's help in straightening out the parking faux pas. He was a bit more critical of the machine.

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"You'd think if you didn't push for the receipt, it would spit the dollar back out," Hoagland said as he and his son got back into their car for the drive back to Lake Geneva.

Pete Fearing, a Williams Bay resident, said he believes people get shaken when faced with something new.

"It might be overly complicated for parking," Fearing said, waving his hand at all the buttons, slots and instructions posted on the parking station. "We got so used to the old way."

The old way now sits in the Fontana Public Works building. About 200 of the old-fashioned, clunky coin-eating parking meters are now unused, awaiting disposition.

Village Administrator Kelly Hayden suggested the village's old meters will probably be sold off through e-Bay. They can then go on to other uses, such as mementoes, lawn decorations and door stops.

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They have been replaced by four metal and plastic, solar-powered pylon-like structures called parking stations. This is parking in the 21st Century, convenient, simple and lucrative. For Fontana, at least.

Fontana has experimented with the new parking stations since 2009. This year, the experiment is over, and the parking stations have taken over completely.

The four stations are at the Fontana Beach House; at lot 3, which has the boat lot next to it; at 3rd and Reid streets, and near the beach lot, across from Chuck's tavern.

The old meters, stationed one per parking space, were chest-high metal Cyclopses with a crank and a slot that accepted just one kind of coin, usually quarters. Drop the coin, turn the crank, and a meter in the Cyclopean eye told the supplicant the interval until the next parking ticket.

The high-tech stations, made by Total Parking Solutions (TPS), are boxy, and tall enough to meet the parking supplicant eye-to-eye - if it had eyes. They are also centrally-located, each station controlling about 50 to 100 parking spaces. The supplicant must now seek out where to pay tribute, although adequate signage makes sure most are aware of the station's location.

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TPS has been in business for six years and serves 50 communities in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, including nearby Harvard, Ill.

Primarily solar powered, the stations come with a battery back up. They have a variety of buttons along with separate slots for coin, bill or credit card. And heavens to Flash Gordon, they're in constant contact with communications satellites in orbit around Earth, relaying their current conditions, monitoring the locations of parked vehicles and checking the validity of credit cards.

The new parking stations cost about $13,000 each, Hayden said.

But for the village's bottom line, it's worth it.

Last year, the village budgeted its parking meter income at $38,000 and took in $58,000. This year, the village budgeted $62,000, and Hayden said she expects the new parking system to meet or exceed that amount.

Part of the increase is because the village raised parking fees from 50 cents an hour to $1, Hayden said. But some of that increase is also due to the new parking system.

Police Chief Steve Olson said that having a parking system that accepts more than just quarters is probably helping the village increase its parking intake. Patrons aren't just pushing quarters into a slot and hoping to finish their business on time.

"People are putting in their credit cards and buying some cushion time," Olson said.

So far, Olson is pleased with the new parking system.

On the practical side, the meters are time-savers for the police.

Emptying the old meters was a 2 ½ hour chore done every Monday morning by two police officers. The officers emptied the meters and then transported the cash to the bank. Coins were carried in two or three buckets, Olson said.

Now it takes two officers 15 minutes to empty the parking stations, Olson said.

Enforcement is also easier. The parking attendant only has to punch in a code and press a button, and the station spits out a list of parking spaces used and expiration times. The attendant only has to visit the expired parking spaces. Anything parked there is going to get a ticket.

The system has also gone a long way to put the kibosh on the many excuses that came with the old meter system.

Complaints that the meter ran too fast or was broken won't work anymore.

Should a station need repair, it will direct patrons to an alternative station while sending out an electronic call for help. TPS will dispatch a repair crew.

And the stations issue each patron a receipt that indicates the parking space and the amount of time purchased.

Olson said he's only had one incident of a car being ticketed when it apparently was still legally parked. That ticket was voided. Olson said he's still not sure why the ticket and the receipt did not jibe.

He encourages patrons to keep their receipts.

The old parking meters weren't much fun for Fontana. They were heavy and clunky. They broke down and needed to be repaired by the Public Works Department.

Not everyone is as enthused about the new system, Olson acknowledged.

Right now, police are hearing three major complaints.

- There are not enough signs directing patrons to parking stations.

The village has 14 or 15 signs, said Olson.

- The signs aren't big enough.

The village has ordered several more signs, and bigger ones, Olson said.

- The pay-to-park system is confusing.

While not intentionally so, there may be something to that. But that complaint should fade once patrons get used to the new system, Olson said.

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