City of Dubuque to pilot smart parking meters, one council member opposed

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- The city of Dubuque will soon test out 11 smart meters in downtown Dubuque as part of its effort to replace parking meters, but one council member is not on board with the pilot.

The city of Dubuque will test out 11 of these smart parking meters. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)

Transportation Services Director Candace Eudaley-Loebach said replacing the existing meters is part of the city's five year capital improvement plan.

She said the current meters are hard to maintain and even out of date. They still run on batteries that must be replaced daily and they don't gather data that can tell city staff anything about usage.

"We don’t have data on vacancy rates, usage rates, how much revenue a meter generates," Eudaley-Loebach said. "We also don’t have the ability to know when the canister inside is full, so we empty every single one. Even if it’s empty we open it up and have to do that all the time.”

Eudaley-Loebach requested the city council's approval for a 30 day trial period with Sentry smart meters because it's free and the city will get to keep the revenue generated during the pilot. Only council member Brett Shaw opposed the pilot.

However, if the city chose to replace all of its existing meters with a smart meter, the revenue would be shared and Sentry would own the meters.

"We don’t pay anything to have them. To have them installed, to have them updated, to do maintenance, licensing; we don’t pay for any of that," Eudaley-Loebach explained. "Then we share the revenue that comes in once the meters are installed.”

Councilman Brett Shaw voted against the pilot for that reason.

"It's revenue that leaves the community, you know, we aren't going to get it back," he said.

He also has an issue with the way tickets would be issued.

With the smart meter, customers can pay for the time they didn't pay for initially. For example, a customer that pays for one hour of parking, but ends up staying for an hour and twenty minutes, will have the option of paying for that additional 20 minutes and avoiding a ticket. If that customer chooses not to pay for the 20 minutes, a ticket would be issued.

However, tickets are immediately issued when customers don't pay for a parking spot at all or exceed the allotted time limit.

"If you're unfortunate enough to park in a 20 minute spot, and you exceed that 20 minute mark, that's a $10 citation that's going to be issued," Shaw explained.

That also means chain-feeding a meter wouldn't be allowed.

Shaw worries this system will nickel and dime customers.

However, Eudaley-Loebach sees this feature as evening the playing field.

She said, "everybody who parks is paying instead of somebody who just happens to get lucky a lot, versus somebody who doesn’t get lucky a lot.”

In addition to this feature, the meters can do a lot more. There's a LED screen that can display city announcements, it can accept credit cards and also collect data that city staff can use to understand usage.

Eudaley-Loebach said it also has an app that will update people on available parking spots.

"Your passenger can pull up what parking spaces are available, and you can go to that area instead of driving around," she explained.

The meter can also recognize license plates and make the payment process faster.

"It does have an app called Concierge. So you can set yourself up on that with all of your family’s license plates in it and then have money on your account, and when you pull up it just knows that it’s your car. It takes the money out, you leave," she explained.

Eudaley-Loebach said the pilot should begin sometime this Fall. The smart meters will be set up at 890 Main St., 285 Main St. and 976 Jackson St.