New Parking Meter Stations In Minneapolis Are S-L-O-W

June 17, 2011

Minneapolis parking meter pay stationIn the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, we’re getting used to the new computerized parking meters that have sprouted up around here in recent months.

The newfangled meter stations offer some advantages. For one thing, they accept credit/debit cards. They’re solar-powered, which is cool. And the city says the automated stations make collections and enforcement easier.

But here’s an annoying difference between the old-school meters and the new ones: The pay stations take too long to process transactions.

Even after you figure out how to enter your space number and payment, you have to wait another 15 to 25 seconds for your receipt. Doesn’t seem like much, but the silent delay makes you wonder if you’ve done something wrong. Plus, when there are other people in line to pay (before a Twins game, for example) the waiting time adds up.

I suppose you could bail before the receipt prints, but then you’re not sure your payment was accepted. Also, the receipt is your defense if you’re wrongly ticketed.

Another observation: The pay station interface is not as intuitive as it should be. Buying parking time is not difficult to figure out, but even after using the stations a few times, there is still a definite “OK, what the heck am I doing here?” moment every time you approach one. Part of the problem is the electronic display screen … the text stacks up and the directions are not as clear as they should be.

I’ve already seen a few newbies struggle mightily to complete their transactions. If you’re the type of person who gets antsy waiting for someone at an ATM, you’ll go nuts if you ever find yourself stuck in line behind some clueless rube. (Pro tip: You can skirt a line by paying at a nearby machine.)

The video shows the wait time after pressing the “print receipt” button:

The pay stations, which cost $9,000 each, are the way of the future in Minneapolis. They’re already ubiquitous downtown and in the North Loop. Eventually, the city plans to convert 75% of the city’s 6,800 parking spots to the new system. The initial push is costing the city $6.6 million.

CALE Parking in Tampa, Fla., makes the parking meter equipment that Minneapolis is installing. The city plans to work with the company to shorten transaction times, says Atif Saeed, a parking systems manager for the city.

“It takes approximately 15 seconds for coin transactions and 23 seconds for credit card transactions to print receipt,” Saeed said. “We believe this can be improved, and are working with CALE to resolve the issue.”

UPDATE: If you’re one of those people who like to plan every detail of a trip and you want to check out the pay-station directions before encountering one, the city offers a handy Minneapolis parking meter how-to guide (PDF link).

Side note: A Fast Horse visitor plugged the machine outside our office and later remarked, “With those new meters, they could never remake ‘Cool Hand Luke’.” He was referring, of course, to the movie scene in which the rebel played by Paul Newman decapitates a row of parking meters.