San Mateo meters allow longer parking hours

Melva Gomez likes to browse the shops and restaurants in downtown San Mateo, but thinks the two-hour time limit on the city’s parking meters is inconvenient.

As she plunked a few coins into one of the meters, the Daly City resident said she’s looking forward to the city’s installation of new computerized meters, which will allow up to four hours of street parking as well as credit card payment.

“Obviously it would help very much,” Gomez, 48, said before heading into Peet’s Coffee. “You never know. You want to shop, you want to look and you have to run and put change in your meter.”

City officials recently finished installing the last of 21 new multispace meters on several major downtown streets, a response to what officials say is the growth of entertainment in downtown.

As trendy restaurants and the movie theater have become popular destinations, customers have complained that the two-hour limit at many of the area’s street parking meters isn’t long enough, even though nearby garages have longer limits.

“I know that because they call me and yell at me — ‘Why can’t I park for more than two hours?’” said Vince Hansen, facility manager for the city. “People that want to go to an early dinner and then go to a movie, it doesn’t allow them to do that.”

With the new meters, set to go live this week, the first two hours will cost $0.50 each and then the rate will go up to $1 for the third and fourth hours.

The city plans to remove the older single-space mechanical meters, which could not be configured for a four-hour time limit and were prone to robberies and getting jammed, Hansen said.

“It’s much better for the businesses if the shoppers can stay longer,” said Rob Edwards, executive director of the Downtown San Mateo Association. “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

If all goes well, Hansen said, city officials hope to install about 35 more of the $9,500 meters in the rest of downtown over the next 18 months, at a total cost of roughly $500,000.

While officials have no plans to use demand-based pricing, a concept cities such as Redwood City and San Francisco are experimenting with, they do hope to eventually allow payment by cell phone.

The new devices will also allow shoppers to pay by credit card for meter fares of at least $2 so they don’t have to carry around a pocket full of change.

“That’s good for us too,” said Koichi Ito, the sushi chef at Sushi Sam’s on Third Street. “Quarters — nobody has [them].”

Redwood City ironing out wrinkles in system

City planners pitched Redwood City’s electronic multispace parking meters as a pioneering technology that would make parking more convenient and available when they were installed in 2007. 

The meters eliminated parking time limits, used variable pricing, allowed residents to pay for any space at any meter and offered payment by credit card or cell phone.

But some customers found the computerized interface difficult to use, prompting merchants to complain that the meters were discouraging people from coming downtown. Others complained the variable pricing on different streets was confusing. 

As San Mateo becomes the latest Peninsula city to adopt the multispace meters, officials there are hoping the introduction is smoother than the initial reception in Redwood City. San Mateo is not adopting the variable-pricing scheme.

While the meters still bother some merchants and customers in Redwood City, officials believe many shoppers have become used to the new technology, said City Engineer Peter Vorametsanti. Officials have simplified the meters’ menus and reduced the number of different price zones to two in response to earlier complaints and are still seeking input on the meters.

“I know we will not resolve everything but hopefully we can help a little bit,” Vorametsanti said.

The director of the Downtown San Mateo Association said he thinks customers will adapt just fine.

“It takes you like eight seconds more to forego ever getting a $40 ticket. I think it’s worth it,” said Rob Edwards.

Moneymakers

San Mateo officials hope multispace meters will make parking downtown easier.

$0.50: Hourly rate for the first and second hours at new multispace meters
$1: Rate for third and fourth hours
$2: Minimum charge to use credit card at meter
$0.25: Hourly rate for existing 10-hour meter spaces in downtown garages
21: Multispace meters currently installed in downtown
56: Approximate multispace meters city hopes to have in next 18 months

Car convenience

Upgraded meter locations:

– Fourth Avenue between El Camino Real and B Street

– Ellsworth Avenue between Fourth and Fifth avenues

– Fifth Avenue between Ellsworth Avenue and B Street

– B Street between First and Sixth avenues

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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