New, solar-powered parking meters that give drivers the option to pay with a credit card could end the days of digging under the seat for quarters in Minneapolis.
The next generation of meters began appearing in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday. After about two years, the new meters will replace old coin meters for nearly 4,500 street parking spaces in the city.
The meters will come as both individual and multi-space units. The multi-space meters will each serve about 10 parking spaces.
Many U.S. cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles, have used the new meters for years.
Ward 12 Councilwoman Sandy Colvin Roy said having bigger projects as models has enabled Minneapolis to build advanced meters.
"You don't want to buy the first car off the line. You want to make sure it's tested," she said. "These meters were tested well."
The city's current parking meters were purchased nearly 20 years ago. Colvin Roy said they have passed their useful lives, and she said the city needed to replace malfunctioning meters.
The new meters can warn drivers of peak period "tow away" zones and accept reloadable smart cards and cell phone payment options.
A Minneapolis field test in the spring showed that 50 percent of drivers took advantage of the credit or debit card option.
The project will cost the city about $6.6 million. Colvin Roy said the project will be cost effective and could pay for itself in one year based on revenue alone.
On-street parking collects about $7 million per year. Because there will be fewer meters, the cost to maintain them will also drop, city officials said.
In addition, the solar-powered meters won't require as many battery changes, which will cut energy and labor costs.
"It's cheaper for the city to run the new system. It's easier [for] drivers to utilize," Colvin Roy said. "It's not very often that [a project] can benefit residents and the city the way this will."
St. Paul also plans to use new credit card meters in the future. The city rented 50 meters that were installed on Wabasha Street in October and will be tested over a sixth-month trial period.