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There’s an App For That

news2_phoneDowntown Santa Cruz parking goes hi-tech
Originally slated to take effect in time for the holidays, the trial run of a new parking program in Downtown Santa Cruz has been postponed until mid-January.

The program will allow people who park downtown to pay for parking and add more time to their parking lot spot or meter via cell phone. The City of Santa Cruz hopes the new program will encourage more people to shop downtown and reduce shoppers’ likelihoods of receiving parking tickets.

The program was designed by Parkmobile USA of Atlanta, Ga. The Parkmobile program keeps users from running out of time by sending a text message when 15 minutes is left on a parking space or meter. Users have the option of extending their parking time by using their cell phone to either call Parkmobile or by using the downloadable smart phone application to pay for an extension.

Employees in Pacific Avenue shops say they could see how the program would benefit shoppers.

“We often have people in here saying, 'Oh, I can't stay too long, my meter's almost up,'” says Kristina Kemp, a sales associate at Kurios Fashion.

Since many downtown shoppers are on their phones already, Kemp says she thinks the Parkmobile program could be a success.

Jasmine Glenn, an employee at Velvet Underground, says she has also noticed that customers routinely cut their shopping short in order to rush to an expired meter.

“I think for tourists there should be easier, more accessible parking,” says Glenn. “But they should consider a free parking program.”

Free parking is available downtown, but only in a few lots that restrict parking to three hours. Downtown employees say that because they work in shifts longer than three hours, parking is inconvenient and parking tickets are often difficult to avoid.

Currently, parking options range from a limited number of free three hour spaces to Pacific Avenue's pricier $.75 an hour, two-hour maximum meters.

The City of Santa Cruz is in no position to reduce parking fees or fines because of budget shortfalls (they face a whopping $8 million deficit this year). But, the city hopes that introducing a new system of paying for parking could help close this gap while still saving people from expensive parking citations.

In Downtown Santa Cruz, the Parkmobile pilot program is set to take effect in mid-January, once city officials decide between two different parking programs offered by Parkmobile USA.

The first option is the Start/Duration system, where users can only pay for the existing time limit posted on the meter before incurring a ticket. The Start/Duration system would simply add another pay option to the lineup of existing options, which include paying by Parkcard, credit card, cash, or coins.

The second option comes with a recommendation from Marlin Grandlund, parking program manager for the city, who says he sees an advantage to removing the existing time limits from certain city parking spaces. The program, called Start/Stop, would use increasing rates to encourage turnover, but would allow people to park their cars for extended times. Under this system, the first two hours on Pacific Avenue would continue to cost $.75. But the third hour would cost $1.25, and each additional hour would be $2, with a daily max of $10-15. The city's 12-hour meters would continue to cost $.25 an hour.

Since meters would still show “Expired” if a person paid by phone, enforcement officers would use a web-enabled device which would tell them which vehicles had paid by phone. Each meter would display a sticker with the toll-free Parkmobile USA number and directions explaining how to use the service.

Elliot Wright, a singer/songwriter and employee at Pacific Wave Surf Shop, says he approves of the Parkmobile program.

“I like it,” says Wright. “The parking [now] is very reflective of the town in general, in that it's designed for tourists and not designed for the people who live here and work here, and actually depend on being able to park to make money and contribute taxes to their community.”

He adds, “It sucks to have to run and use your only 10-minute break to make sure your car is OK.” 

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