New equipment to be purchased to implement paid parking program in State Street garage

Initiative will be coordinated with paid parking program in Palm Avenue garage, though timeline has not been determined

The State Street garage opened in downtown Sarasota in the latter part of 2015. File photo

The Sarasota City Commission unanimously gave the go-ahead on Sept. 18 for city staff to spend $217,062 on equipment to implement a paid parking program in the State Street garage and to add elements to the system already in place at the Palm Avenue garage.

One feature in both garages will be a “pay-on-foot station,” which will allow members of the public who would like to do so to pay their tickets before reaching the exit line, Mark Lyons, the city’s parking manager, explained to the board during its regular meeting.

Preferably, he said, a person would pay before getting back into his or her car. “Then you’d be able to speed through without having to fumble with a credit card or money in the exit lane.”

Those pay-on-foot stations would be available at the elevators.

If someone chooses that method, Vice Mayor Liz Alpert responded, “how does that guarantee that the car is going to leave?”

The software will give the ticket holder sufficient time to return to the vehicle and then exit, Lyons told her.

The backup agenda material for the item says the public will be able to park for free for three hours, with an hourly charge implemented thereafter.

In response to questions from The Sarasota News Leader, Lyons wrote in a Sept. 19 email that the equipment should be installed by December, but he was not certain how soon thereafter the paid parking program would begin in the garages. He also clarified that for consistency purposes, he would expect the program to start in both the State Street and Palm Avenue facilities at the same time.

The installation of the equipment also will enable staff to track usage of the facility, Lyons explained to the City Commission on Sept. 18.

The Palm Avenue garage will see about 40% of its spaces used by the Hotel Sarasota when that facility opens next door to the garage. File photo

“How accurate is it?” Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked.

Cameras will be installed as well as a gate in the State Street garage, Lyons told her; between them and the use of the gate, staff should be able to get good data.

He also indicated that the gate would be left up for a short period in the early morning hours, when garage usage is at its lowest level. That would help prevent maintenance issues that can result from the constant raising and lowering of the gate, he added.

“So you’re saying that somebody would incur a cost [to park] unless they waited until the gate was up, and they would just drive out?” Commissioner Hagen Brody asked.

“We don’t like to advertise that, Commissioner,” Lyons responded with a laugh. “That is a possibility, but we can track that occurrence.”

“It’s going to happen all the time,” Brody told Lyons, adding that he never had encountered that type of situation in a parking garage, with someone able to leave without paying.

Lyons said staff could modify plans so that does not happen.

“I would think that would make sense,” Alpert replied.

Parking has remained free in the Palm Avenue garage except during special high-traffic events, such as the Downtown Sarasota Holiday Parade, when demand for spaces is at a very high level. However, the material provided to the city commissioners in advance of the meeting reminded them that when the new hotel adjacent to the Palm Avenue garage opens, a portion of the spaces in that facility will be reserved for hotel guests. Lyons has reported in past meetings that Hotel Sarasota will need about 40% of the spaces.

A graphic provides information about the pay-on-foot stations. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

City Planning Director Steven Cover and Lyons also explained that the Sept. 18 request entailed a single-source acquisition. Because PSx Inc. of Tampa was the vendor with which the city contracted in August 2010 for the installation of paid parking equipment in the Palm Avenue garage, the city would save money and operations would be more efficient if the city purchased the State Street equipment from PSx, they pointed out

The backup agenda material for the Sept. 18 meeting noted that PSx “is the only authorized distributor of AMANO McGann parking equipment within the Central Florida region. With the existing equipment in place,” the document continued, “consideration on how to integrate its use is a determining factor in how to proceed with new equipment for the State Street garage.”

Moreover, the document noted, “This equipment is used in a number of municipal parking operations and has been found to be very adequate in performance.” Using the same equipment, the document added, would allow for an interface with the system in the Palm Avenue garage, “creating commonality of reporting features [and] operations …” Additionally, it noted, the public already is familiar with how the equipment functions. Using the same system in the State Street garage, the document pointed out, would save about $40,000, allow for the use of interchangeable parts and “provide a more consistent and user-friendly approach …”

When Freeland Eddie asked about the expense of the request, Lyons explained that when the State Street garage project was authorized, $217,062 was set aside for implementation of a paid parking system. Although the cost of the new equipment will be $212,043, he added, the remaining funds will be used for communications about the implementation of the program and provide for any contingencies.