No more paper receipts to clutter up your dashboard.
Some things about street parking in downtown Houston are unlikely to change: It will always require a keen eye for available spots and the courage and skill to wedge your car between large trucks.
A paper receipt, however, is becoming unnecessary as the city replaces its parking meters with newer models that give drivers more options and can even send a text message alerting them that their time is about to expire.
Rather than place a receipt on the dashboard indicating payment, those parking downtown can now input their license plate number when paying by cash or credit card. The machine relays the list of paid vehicles to parking enforcement officers, who simply verify the vehicle is accounted for. If drivers prefer, they can get a paper receipt for the dashboard as before.
“Hopefully it is easier on our customers and it is easier on us,” said Maria Irshad, who oversees ParkHouston, the parking division within the city’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.
The first 276 meters have been installed in northern parts of downtown, primarily around the county courthouse. Parking rules have not changed, and the new meters, like the old ones, require that a button be pushed to activate them.
Over the next five years, 1,054 meters – some dating to 2006 – will be replaced. The city is spending about $10 million on the new meters, which essentially pay for themselves via parking fees.
The meters being replaced were a vast improvement over old-style machines that required coins, but they also had some problems. Powered by a solar panel atop the kiosk, some of the meters had trouble staying on during “the four months without sunshine” in Houston, said Lara Cottingham, deputy assistant director in the regulatory affairs department.
People also left cups and other litter on top of the panel, disabling it, said Jerry Keeth, division manager for meter operations for ParkHouston.
Paper receipts became a major hassle. Humidity and heavy rain gummed up the slot where the machine spits out the receipts. The paper jams led to broken meters and frustrated drivers.
“I’ve tried to park downtown and both machines on the block would be broken,” Roger Reese said.
Irshad said the new meters were designed with a sensor to alert ParkHouston when the paper dispenser jams, which also shuts down the meter so someone doesn’t inadvertently pay and not receive a receipt.
Eventually, parking officials hope fewer and fewer receipts are needed.
“Definitely the future of parking is your cell phone,” Irshad said.
The app to use on your phone for parking downtown is ParkMobile, which has text-reminder and add-more-money-remotely features. I’m old school enough to want to use the meters themselves (and I’m cheap enough to want to avoid the extra 35 cents per transaction fee that ParkMobile charges), but not having the paper receipts is nice. A press release from the city on this is here, and KUHF has more.