New parking pay stations installed; paid parking resumes April 2
The new parking pay stations have been installed on Central Avenue but they will not go live until April 2.
City staff are working on the backend to prepare for the new pay stations and the return of the old parking meters on the side streets with staff training next week and transitioning to new software.
There are 14 new pay stations, one per each side of the block, from Park Drive to 8th Street. Two of the pay stations are in the city’s garages.
Craig Raymond, city planning director, said that staff tried to place the pay stations in the middle of the block, but had to work around trees, light poles, pedlets, utilities and other obstacles so some aren’t quit in the middle.
The regular, coin-operated meters will be reinstalled on the side streets throughout downtown. Those meters, and the new pay stations, can all be paid with the Passport Parking app that has been available for downtown parking for several years.
Parking has been free downtown since March 2020 but the two-hour time limit went back into effect in June, as did parking citations for exceeding the two-hours and other violations.
Paid parking will resume April 2. The downtown parking rates are $1 per hour and the new pay stations allow visitors to pay for smaller increments of time, but cannot exceed the two hour limit.
The rate increased in 2019 from 50 cents to $1 per hour.
The fine structure is: one time courtesy ticket, $5 for the second violation, $10 for the third violation and $20 for the fourth and each subsequent violation in any given calendar year.
The city parking system is run by parking fees and fines and does not receive general fund to operate and maintain the parking garages, surface lots, meters and enforcement staff.
The city is switching its backend software to Passport, the same vendor that makes the parking app the city uses. That will allow those who park downtown to create digital wallets to pay for parking so that they don’t incur transaction fees each time they park and for downtown merchants to pay customer parking.
In switching to the new software, locals will also be able to purchase their monthly parking permits digitally.
While making the transition, the vendor recognized that the city offers incentives to monthly permit holders who purchase their permits annually instead of month to month and has offered a lower monthly fee.
Under the current fee structure, there’s a $2.50 monthly fee, but the vendor has offered a $4 annual fee, or 33 cents per month, for those who purchase the annual permit. That’s a $26 savings to those users, according to a city staff report.
The change will require the City Commission to amend the fee structure and they’ll hold a public hearing on the change on April 6.
For those who use the Passport app currently, there won’t be much of a change. All the zones will remain the same, but users will have to enter their license plate since the city is moving to license plate reader technology for enforcement.
Staff is working on the transition but having some challenges with the current vendor, T2, which the city has had issues with for years. The current issue is largely related to migrating records of citations and associated documentation since the city is legally required to retain those records for three years.
During the March 16 City Commission meeting, commissioners approved a new LPR policy, which is required by law. The Parking Advisory Board reviewed and approved the policy during their February meeting.
State law also governs what LPR can be used for and specific prohibitions.
“Some communities across the United States have chosen to utilize LPR to assist in the identification and reporting to authorities of stolen vehicles. In some cases, as the enforcement vehicle would roll along, the cameras would read a license plate that would have been reported as a stolen vehicle and law enforcement would be notified. In Great Falls, this practice will not be permitted and a policy manual will be written to discourage any such unauthorized use of the capabilities that exist with LPR technology,” according to a November staff report.
According to the policy, the LPR device will be used only by the city parking division or the city’s parking enforcement contractor for parking enforcement.
“It shall not be used to take photographs of the occupants of that vehicle or of a vehicle in motion. Use of the LPR device and data collected by the LPR device by the Parking Services Division shall not be used for any other purpose, including for law enforcement outside of enforcing parking ordinances within the Parking Management District as established by the Great Falls City Commission,” according to Raymond’s administrative policy draft.
During the March 18 parking board meeting, staff also reviewed the parking program’s financials.
The program’s reserves have been depleted since the city didn’t charge for downtown parking for the last year, Raymond said.
The lost revenue is “significant and detrimental to the program over all,” Raymond said.
The city is slated to receive about $20 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds and department heads are submitting ideas and requests for those funds.
Raymond said that for the parking program, he’s requested to reimburse the parking program for the lost revenue over the last year as well as for capital improvement projects that have been further delayed due to the pandemic.
City Manager Greg Doyon said during the March 16 commission meeting that staff is generating those lists internally and prioritizing them to present recommendations to commissioners at a future work session.
The city is awaiting federal guidance on rules for use of those funds and “there’s a lot we don’t know,” Raymond said.