Purchase of parking meters authorized for St. Armands

Use of equipment to begin when new garage opens

A graphic shows how the paid parking program will be applied to specific areas of St. Armands. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

After about 20 minutes of discussion on July 2, the Sarasota city commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the expenditure of $382,190 for parking meters on St. Armands Circle.

The public will begin using the meters concurrently with the opening of the city’s parking garage on St. Armands, Parking Department Manager Mark Lyons reminded the board members. That facility is expected to be completed in December, City Manager Tom Barwin has said.

The agreement approved this week indicates the meters will be installed by Nov. 14.

Commissioners Shelli Freeland Eddie and Hagen Brody opposed the purchase. Both have spoken out in the past about their concerns. Freeland Eddie has said she has not been convinced the revenue from the meters will be sufficient to cover the expense of the parking garage, as planned. She suggested at one point that the commission proceed with trial use of meters, to gain a better understanding of whether a sufficient number of people will use them.

Brody has expressed his general opposition to paid parking on city streets.

Lyons had an example of one of the pay stations in the Commission Chambers at City Hall during the afternoon session of the July 2 meeting. He explained that CALE America Inc. of Clearwater was selected as the vendor after extensive testing of a variety of equipment on three different days — at different times of the day.

Staff also provided the board members a summary of survey questions asked during the demonstrations and “the corresponding tallied votes,” as a staff memo noted.

When the city last experimented with parking meters in downtown Sarasota, Lyons acknowledged, one of the biggest problems “was the equipment.”

A parking meter stump sits beside a downtown street before its removal in 2012. File photo

Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said she was among the individuals who had difficulty, during that period in 2011 and 2012, trying to read the equipment. Many people complained that bright daylight conditions made it impossible to follow the directions.

“One of our goals was to make sure that we don’t repeat that mistake,” Lyons told the commissioners on July 2.

The city’s Evaluation Committee reviewed the surveys people filled out following the demonstrations on St. Armands, he continued. “We came back with CALE as the No. 1 choice of everyone.”

Further, Lyons explained, 86% of the survey respondents “felt a pay station system” would be the best option, to avoid populating the Circle and adjacent streets with the meters. Therefore, he said, the agreement calls for up to 40 pay stations and 20 multi-head meters.

When the City Commission voted 3-2 on May 16, 2016 to authorize the parking meter system to pay for the garage, staff said the fees would be as follows: $1.50 per hour for the area designated as the “core”; $1 for perimeter spaces; and 75 cents for surface lot parking at 58 Fillmore Drive. It will cost 50 cents per hour to park in the garage.

The hours for paid street parking will be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 24 hours a day, Monday through Saturday, for the garage. The fees are not scheduled to go into effect until after the Certificate of Occupancy has been issued for the garage, Lyons noted at the time.

Additionally, people will be able to enter their license plate numbers instead of a space number on the meters, he told the board on July 2.

When Commissioner Freeland Eddie asked why the decision was made to install equipment that would be able to use license plate information, Lyons told her that a pay-by-space system would necessitate some type of markings on the ground or signage, “which becomes pretty cumbersome and expensive.” Moreover, he said, “Many people forget their space numbers. What doesn’t change is the license plate.”

Lyons added, “Many people are already familiar with this license plate option,” as staff learned during the demonstrations and review of the surveys.

A CALE America pay station stands on St. Armands during one of the demonstrations for the public. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

When Mayor Liz Alpert asked whether people just enter the numbers and letters of their license plates into the equipment, Lyons confirmed that that is how that approach works.

Ahearn-Koch asked whether the Parking Department will have “parking ambassadors” on the streets — as it did when the last meters were installed in downtown Sarasota — to assist the public with using the equipment.

CALE has committed to 40 hours of training of city staff, Lyons replied, and the staff will be working with the public on use of the equipment. “We’ll have little cards that we’ll be able to hand out.”

Additionally, he noted, the surveys showed that 70% to 80% of the people who responded already are familiar with the type of meters that will be installed on St. Armands.

Nonetheless, he said, he could make certain staff is available in the area to help first-time users.

Freeland Eddie asked whether the system could be programmed to accept donations to assist the homeless, for example, or help pay for beach renourishment. The City of St. Petersburg allows people to make contributions, she added, along with paying for their parking spaces.

Mark Lyons. File photo

Lyons reminded her that, under the terms of the ordinance the commissioners approved for the St. Armands Parking District, the parking revenue has to go toward that district.

City Attorney Robert Fournier pointed out that any money put into the system other than payments for parking would have to be separated from the parking revenue.

When Freeland Eddie asked again whether an option for donations would be available with the CALE equipment, Lyons told her it would.

In response to a question from Commissioner Brody, Lyons said that an app is available for the CALE system. “We can deploy that app,” Lyons added; people also will be able to use the app staff launched months ago to assist drivers with finding parking spaces in other areas of the city.

Nevertheless, he said, staff has learned that some people prefer not to use the app. Experience had taught him, Lyons pointed out, that people take an array of approaches to paying, including the insertion of coins.

The equipment itself

Replying to questions about the two types of meters incorporated into the agreement, Lyons explained that the smaller version will be used for the parking spaces more removed from the Circle.

As he indicated some of those spaces on a map, Freeland Eddie told him she thought that area would remain free. Lyons reminded her that the cost of the spaces will decline, the further from the Circle the meters are located.

A rendering shows the design of the St. Armands parking garage. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“The bigger pieces of equipment are more cost-effective,” he added, except in those remote areas. The goal is to make certain someone does not have to walk 10 minutes, for example, to find a meter, “because then they’re parking illegally,” and staff possibly could ticket them.

The expense of the equipment and its installation will be covered by a loan and then repaid from the revenue collected in the St. Armands Parking District program over 10 years, the staff memo noted.

CALE will perform maintenance on the equipment for the first 120 days, Lyons said: “on-site, actually ensuring that [the meters are] functioning.”

The firm also has guaranteed that it will repair or replace any defective equipment at no charge for up to two years, he added.

City staff will be trained in maintaining the equipment, as well, Lyons emphasized, but CALE will have representatives who can respond within four hours if a problem arises that city staff cannot handle.

The agreement calls for the city to pay 50% of the cost of the equipment and installation upon delivery of the meters. Another 30% will be payable after the city has provided written acceptance of the installation, training and “demonstration that all features work accurately,” the document says. The final 20% will be payable within 30 days “after written acceptance of installation,” the agreement adds.

Commissioner Willie Shaw ultimately made the motion to approve the agreement with CALE, and Ahearn-Koch seconded it. Then the motion passed on the 3-2 vote.