MARTINEZ -- Despite high costs and tepid response from drivers, the city may keep parking meters that accept cash or credit.
With fees outpacing credit card revenue, city staffers urged the council to remove the meters. But the council agreed Wednesday to try negotiating a better deal with the manufacturer before pulling the plug.
"I happen to like them and I think they're convenient and they work better than our regular meters," Councilman Mark Ross said.
In May, the city installed 62 single-space parking meters that accept credit and debit cards along Main Street from Castro to Court streets for a three-month trial. The solar-powered meters use wireless technology and are less expensive than the multispace pay stations that have gained popularity in the past few years.
Although city leaders believed the convenience of paying with plastic would appeal to drivers, during the trial period only 4.5 percent of paying parkers used credit cards, accounting for about 10 percent of the total take for the new meters, according to data from the city. Based on the experience of other communities, City Engineer Tim Tucker had expected 30 to 50 percent of people would use credit or debit cards rather than coins.
Credit cards generated meter revenue of $314 in June, $286 in July and about $343 in August. Banks charged Martinez 5 cents to 22 cents per credit card transaction depending upon the card issuer. San Diego-based IPS Group,
Tucker attributed the disappointing results to the fact that Martinez charges 50 cents per hour for parking while many cities, such as Walnut Creek, charge a dollar.
"With our lower meter rates, our customers are less likely to use credit cards than other communities," Tucker said. "So when we looked at the numbers it just doesn't really pencil out. We don't really have the demand for credit card use and we don't really have the rates that make that attractive."
IPS Group guaranteed that increased revenues would cover the $7,500 cost of the pilot project, so the city withheld the July and August payments, Tucker said.
Ross pushed for asking IPS Group for a break on the monthly fees.
"I think we are trying to modernize our downtown, trying to make it user-friendly, attractive for people to come down here," said Ross, who has an office downtown and still carries quarters to park at meters on side streets.
"If we can negotiate a better price on these fees or something, I'd be willing to take a couple-hundred-dollar loss a month if it means we get more people."
Using plastic to feed the meter has proved much more attractive in downtown Walnut Creek, where the city installed 1,000 IPS Group parking meters earlier this year, according to Matt Huffaker, assistant to the city manager. On average, about 25 percent of drivers are using a credit or debit card and they are more likely to pay for the maximum two hours, he said.
Huffaker acknowledged that Walnut Creek is issuing fewer parking tickets now, "but our goal is we want to make parking as easy as possible downtown." Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.