Parking Operations Manager Sylvia Martinez-Mullally checks over a temporary parking kiosk

City Parking Operations Manager Sylvia Martinez-Mullally, shown checking a parking kiosk prototype that the city tried out, says the city’s existing fleet of 66 parking kiosks is nearly the end of its life cycle. (File photo/Regional News)

Lake Geneva city officials are considering spending about $500,000 on a new fleet of parking kiosks to be used by visitors in the city’s downtown shopping district.

Aldermen on the city council’s public works committee endorsed a plan Feb. 12 to replace the current 66 parking kiosks, which have been in service since 2011.

The new kiosks, costing $7,500 each, would replace the familiar push-button machines with new touch-screen technology that officials say would be easier for motorists to use and easier for the city to maintain.

A prototype of the new kiosk has been on display for a few months, and parking operations manager Sylvia Martinez-Mullally said it has been well received.

“Change is always tough,” she said, “but no one has come up to me and said, ‘I don’t like this.’”

If the full city council agrees, the new parking kiosks could be installed by Memorial Day. Downtown visitors pay $1 to $2 an hour for parking, generating about $1 million a year for the city.

Funds for the new kiosks would come from the city’s parking fund, currently worth $1.5 million.

Members of the public works committee were unanimous in support, although some voiced concern about one change with the new kiosks: no dollar bills allowed.

The new kiosks would accept only coins or credit/debit cards.

Martinez-Mullally said offering a cash system seems to wear down batteries faster on the kiosks. Besides, she added, more people are paying for parking by using a credit card anyway.

That includes an online app — already available in Lake Geneva — that allows people to use credit cards to pay for their parking with a cellphone or other mobile device.

“If you go to other municipalities, credit cards and coins have really become the standard now,” Martinez-Mullally said. “The future is credit cards and apps, not necessarily cash.”

Alderman Ken Howell said he was concerned about eliminating the cash-paying option altogether.

“I don’t want to block someone out of a parking space if they don’t have a credit card or quarters,” Howell said.

The proposal still must be approved by the full city council.

If approved, Martinez-Mullally said she hopes to have the kiosks installed by Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial kickoff to a summer tourism season when parking downtown is most busy.

City parking employees would handle installation.

“I give it up to the staff, because we’re going to be doing the heavy lifting,” she said.

The city has spent months considering a couple of possible options for replacing the current fleet of parking kiosks.

Prototypes have been in operation for two different models — the touch-screen models is on Wrigley Drive and a different keyboard model is on Center Street, both manufactured by Total Parking Solutions Inc. of Chicago. City officials tested the two prototypes in wintertime to ensure the new machines can hold up under the strain of a Lake Geneva winter.

Officials report that both models have passed that test.

“They’ve been working well,” Martinez-Mullally said.

The recommended touch-screen model costs $7,500 each, while the keyboard model is cheaper, at $7,250 each. That means a fleet of 66 would cost either $495,000 or $478,500.

Projected annual maintenance costs are the same $37,000 for either model.

Martinez-Mullally said the she favors the touch-screen kiosk because it would be easier for motorists to use and, therefore, less trouble for city staff to operate.

“If it makes the user experience more positive, if it’s less of a hassle to use, that’s why we’re doing it,” she said.

The current kiosks installed in 2011 cost $6,382 each, but the cost of maintaining those has reached $58,275 a year. Not only that, the modem on the current model will be outdated by next year, making it even more difficult to maintain the current fleet.

Martinez-Mullally said the recommended touch-screen model offers have faster data collection software and a battery that lasts longer. Similar kiosks recently were installed in Chicago and elsewhere.

“I think in a couple of years everyone is going to be using the touch screens,” she said.

Flower suggested that the new kiosks include an option that allows summertime visitors to pay for a beach pass at Riviera Beach along with their parking.

Martinez-Mullally said that is an option the city could consider. She said the city did offer a similar option temporarily many years ago.

“They had this whole system where you could pay for parking and the beach,” she said. “And it didn’t work out for some reason.”