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Detroit upgrades parking meters, weighs higher rates

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city is installing a new high-tech parking system and weighing a proposal that would set varying — and in most cases steeper — hourly meter rates.

Detroit’s Chief Operating Officer Gary Brown said the city has begun installing the first of about 500 state-of-the-art “pay-by-plate” parking kiosks.

The first went up in the city’s Avenue of Fashion on Livernois between Seven Mile and Eight Mile. The rest are slated to be in place by the end of the month.

The new system is designed to spur economic development and generate fewer parking tickets, Brown says.

“People should not be getting tickets if you’ve got all of these options to pay,” he said.

In the meantime, a City Council subcommittee is studying an ordinance proposal to establish new meter rates and allow for dynamic pricing during special programs, including concerts or sporting events.

The parking rates would remain $1-an-hour in neighborhoods. However, it would bump hourly cost in Midtown and Eastern Market areas to $1.50 and a $2-an-hour rate in the city’s central business district.

A public hearing on the rate changes is set for July 27. Brown hopes the full council will vote on the parking meter ordinance before its recess at the end of July. The city’s parking department needs the council’s approval to change the rate structure.

The technology allows drivers to access a meter kiosk, enter in their license plate number and park in any space within a specific zone, rather than a single spot.

Customers can feed coins, or credit or debit cards into the kiosks; or buy parking time via a mobile app, or by calling a toll-free number 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Rufus Bartell, owner of Simply Casual clothing store and member of the Avenue of Fashion Business Association, says the city has been cooperative on its new parking policies.

“This is probably the best system under the circumstances,” said Bartell, who is also president of the Independent Business Association of Detroit. “It allows more cars to park in the zones than it does at meters alone. And it helps to create turnover, which all businesses need.”

As the new meters have gone in, Brown said “ambassadors” have been deployed to help businesses and users with the machines.

In the initial weeks of a new kiosk being installed, the city will only write “courtesy tickets” to remind people to make parking payments with credit or debit cards or coins, he said.

As the new system moves through the neighborhoods and eventually the downtown, officials are engaging business and community groups to address concerns.

Representatives from Detroit’s Eastern Market are expected to soon meet with Brown. Kiosks haven’t gone in yet, but now that the process has begun in other areas, it’s “raising a lot of angst,” Brown has said.

Jason Bell, a co-owner of the Detroit Cheese Company and Randy’s Sausage Shop on Gratiot, says he’s looking forward to answers.

Bell says he’s not opposed to new technology, but hopes the meter kiosks won’t be added in an area along the Fisher Freeway Service Drive that’s historically been free.

“An upgrade in meters isn’t a bad thing, but we have free parking now on the service drive. I’m worried about them charging to park there because that will affect us,” said Bell, who has been located in the south end of the market since 1971. “They don’t need to deter people from coming to the market because of the parking situation.”

Last spring, former emergency manager Kevyn Orr approved a new rate schedule for parking fines.

The increase bumped tickets from $30, $50 and $80 to $45, $65 and $95, respectively, for parking violations and late fees. The new schedule also eliminated a $10 rate for early payment.