How to: A guide to the new pay stations in downtown
On April 2, paid parking resumes in downtown Great Falls and there are new multi-space pay stations on Central Avenue from Park Drive to 8th Street.
There’s one kiosk per block on both sides of the street. There’s also a pay station in each of the city’s two parking garages.
The new pay stations are similar to those in Missoula and Helena.
The old parking meters will remain on side streets.
The two hour limit remains in the downtown parking district.
To use the new pay stations, take note of the vehicle’s license plate number and find the nearest pay station. Follow these three steps at the kiosk:
- Enter license plate number
- Select duration of stay (up to two hours)
- Make payment with cash, coin, or credit card.
The city is still using the Passport Parking app and existing customers won’t see much change other than needing to enter their license plate number.
You can download the Passport Parking app at www.PassportParking.com and pay for parking with a smartphone.
Helpful tip: the pay stations will not give change if you put in a $5 or $10 bill.
Handicapped areas will have zone and space numbers and they can be paid at the pay station and app. Those with handicapped placards can stay in those marked spaces for eight hours.
The city enforces parking regulations Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no parking enforcement on the weekends, according to the city.
Parking rates and fines remain the same. The on-street parking rate was last 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.
There are other types of violations, such as straddling a meter/improper parking, sign violations, hydrant zones and handicapped spaces. Those violations carry different fines.
The city parking system is run by parking fees and fines and does not receive general fund support to operate and maintain the parking garages, surface lots, meters and enforcement staff.
The city purchased the new pay stations, after City Commissioners approved the purchase in November, and the revenue through those pay stations stays within the city parking program, as it did and continues to do with the regular meters.
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.
Signs are going up throughout the downtown parking district to help parkers learn about the new pay stations and the Passport Parking app.
The city is now using license plate recognition technology for enforcement and in mid-March, the commission adopted the policy for that system.
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.
Here’s some background on the city’s parking program and history.
Q: Where did the meters come from?
A: In September 1947, the City Commission passed an ordinance to install meters downtown. In the 1949 general election, Great Falls voters supported keeping meters after an 18-month test run.
The ordinance also established two-hour parking time limits and set parking rates at 1 cent for 12 minutes; 2 cents for 24 minutes; 3 cents for 36 minutes; 4 cents for 48 minutes and 5 cents for an hour. Meters were enforced between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. except Sundays and legal holidays.
Q: When’s the last time meter rates were increased?
A: The meter rates and fine structure changed in 2019. Before that, the last increase was in 2008, when meter rates were increased from 25 cents per hour to the current rate of 50 cents per hour. In 1947 the rate was 5 cents per hour, which if adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars is equivalent to 55 cents, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s inflation calculator.
Q: Why not reduce enforcement?
A: The city has over the years shrunk the parking enforcement area and removed meters in some underutilized areas. On 2nd Avenue South, there were complaints from business owners and the police department about junk and abandoned vehicles. Meters in that area have since been replaced. The city also ceased Saturday enforcement several years ago and eliminated the residential parking permit program and enforcement in the area from Central to Gibson Park.
Q: Why can’t we have free parking like Bozeman?
A: Bozeman’s parking program is structured differently than Great Falls’ and is heavily subsidized with tac increment financing funds.
Bozeman used about $500,000 in TIF funds to upgrade to license plate reader technology in 2019 and another $500,000 in TIF funds was being used for surface lot improvements that year. TIF funds had also been paying the debt service on the downtown parking garage since 2009, according to the city’s parking manager in 2019.
Parking in Bozeman is free for two hours, but time violations carry a $20 fee.
In Great Falls, the parking program is funded by fees and fines for parking and is not subsidized by the general fund. In 2019, the Commission approved $470,000 from the downtown TIF fund for repairs to the city’s garages.
More information on the city’s parking program is here, or call 727-7828.