No quarter? No problem, when it comes to new solar-powered parking meters headed for Minneapolis beginning this fall.
Parkers will be able to pay by credit card at meters for the first time, as they've been able to do in city parking ramps. Stored-value cards that already can be used in meters will be cheaper to buy. Even plugging a meter by texting may be possible down the road.
Those are some of the big changes planned in how drivers will be able to use most meters in the city under a three-year, $6.6 million upgrade of the city's 6,800 meters approved Friday by the City Council.
But the technology will be a two-way street; most of the new meters will use the city's wireless network, meaning some new advantages for meter monitors in their cat-and-mouse game with drivers.
For example, some of the new downtown meters won't display how much time remains after a vehicle departs, making it harder for drivers to find a space in which to park free for a while.
Moreover, the new meters will be capable of snitching electronically to meter monitors when a meter expires. That also means that meter monitors using handheld wireless units yet to be selected can concentrate on areas with the greatest number of expired meters.
The biggest changes will come downtown, where the city will switch to one multi-space meter for each side of each block. That means walking to a relatively slim pillar and giving it a parking space number as well as payment, as some private parking lots require. A driver may obtain a receipt but doesn't need to display it. However, these units also won't show how much time remains for an individual space.
Farther afield, in relatively high-demand parking areas such as Stadium Village, Dinkytown or Uptown, the new technology will come on single-pole meters.
Only lower-demand metered areas will keep the traditional meters, although they'll be replaced with new units as the 1992 vintage ones wear out.
That's dictated by how much revenue is collected. The multi-space meters run $8,000 to $10,000 and serve about 10 spaces, so they'll be reserved for areas with the highest rates and most frequent use. The high-tech, single-space meters cost about $500 each, while traditional meters are in the $100 to $150 range.
The exact prices will be negotiated with the three selected vendors, according to Tim Drew, a city traffic engineer who oversaw the city's study of its options.
The solar panels on the high-tech meters will charge a battery, a combination that has been installed by the same companies in other Northern tier cities such as Montreal, Chicago and Milwaukee, Drew said. The recommended meters were selected from six types that were put through a field test of eight months, including winter months. During the test, users gave feedback through 200 online surveys.
One advantage for the city is that the high-tech meters won't be locked in to a rate. For example, they could charge one rate during the day for shoppers and office workers, and a higher rate at night for people attending a sporting event. Meters also could be programmed to warn a driver that they're in a rush-hour tow-away zone.
Some existing eight-hour meters require 32 quarters to maximize time. That fills a meter quickly, and collecting quarters has been increasingly time-consuming for city staffers as meter rates have climbed. The field test found that quarter use dropped about 50 percent when credit cards were allowed. Plus, the new meters will inform the city when they need to be emptied.
Installation of the meters is scheduled to be completed in 2012.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438