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September 16. 2013 9:49PM

Parking gets personal in NH communities with electronic meters

Personal parking meters, small electronic devices that can take the place of a pocket full of quarters for parking on streets and in city parking facilities, are gaining a toehold in New Hampshire communities.

Three New Hampshire cities are now part of a parking consortium, under which a single device, called EasyPark, can be used to electronically satisfy parking meter fees from member communities.

In Manchester, use of the new parking system is due to begin next week. It is already used in Dover and Portsmouth.

Sold for an initial cost of $29.95, which includes $10 in pre-loaded parking fees, the devices allow parking at facilities in any of the three participating communities.

The module is set for the maximum time allowed for a particular spot, and counts off the time used until it is either turned off by its owner or registers a violation flag.

"When you turn this device on, it says hello and it gives you your balance," said Tom Cocchiaro, parking operations supervisor for Portsmouth. "The very next thing is a list of the communities that are participating, you just scroll down the list and select it."

EasyPark allows cities to charge different fees and set different time limits for various parking areas within the community.

Car owners periodically connect the device to their home computers through a USB cord to add money to their account and download the latest fees, time limits and extend coverage to any new communities added to the parking consortium.

The technology is catching on in Portsmouth.

"We have over 470 subscribers in Portsmouth alone," said Cocchiaro. "We very small footprint of metered parking spaces in the downtown, about 600 yards by 600 yards."

Portsmouth has yet to extend the system to its parking garage, which uses paid passes and pay-before-you-leave system that must be retrofitted to work with the modules.

Easypark is the product of OTI America, an Israeli-owned company. New Hampshire is one of the company's targeted markets in the United States. In Israel, a similar product is in use in 37 municipalities, a company spokeswoman said.

Dover was the first U.S. city in the United States to use EasyPark system. Parking officials say it has worked well

"It's fabulous, it is extremely well received for the convenience by the user," said city parking manager Bill Simons. "It benefits the city because we reduce coin collections at our meters, the use of supplies, wear and tear of the mechanisms, we get 100 percent of our income from the parking, we don't lose a percentage to the company."
Easypass makes its money on the balances on deposit and through the initial $19.95 charge and a $6 annual fee to use the device. So far, the system is too new to deterine if it is encouraging people to take their business from one city to another.
Dover's Simons said data suggests people are parking longer, which can help local business.
"It indicates that people are having that second cup of coffee, or looking in that second store,' Simons said. "With parking meters, you are projecting (the length of) visits, but now you can stay as long as you want as long so there's not concern about saying 'I only have 15 minutes left,' you can keep going."
For revenue-hungry cities, however, there are cashbox disadvantages. Cities lose the opportunity to profit from double-dipping, when a car with time left on the meter is replaced by a freshly-paying motorist, earning the city double payments.
Motorists won't be paying for time they don't use as a hedge against errands taking longer than anticipated. The automatic debiting of the parking fee also means as long as the maximum time allowed isn't exceeded, the driver won't be greeted on return by a bright orange notice of an assessment many times the hourly parking rate.

wsmith@unionleader.com


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