An experiment in parking fee collections doesn't work out - SentinelSource.com: Editorial

An experiment in parking fee collections doesn't work out

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Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 12:15 pm

The annals of municipal history — or any history, for that matter — do not overflow with admissions of new ideas not working out. Hence a nod to Keene Police Chief Kenneth J. Meola for acknowledging this week that a recent innovation in collecting parking fees wasn’t doing the job and ought to be scrapped.

Last year the City Council agreed to test out two computerized kiosks to serve 47 parking spaces in Keene’s downtown. Instead of depositing coins in individual meters, motorists would walk to one of the kiosks to make their payments. It was imagined that parking revenues might rise, partly because motorists would no longer be able to be piggyback on time left on meters at vacant spaces. There were additional possible efficiencies based on the record of such kiosk systems in other places.

Some citizens went ballistic at first mention of the experiment, and insisted that the city’s move constituted a rip-off, a drain on consumers, a threat to a way of life, and grounds to avoid the downtown for outlying shopping areas where parking is free.

Some of those critics predicted that the arrangement would fail, and it turns out that they were right. This week Chief Meola said that mechanical problems, combined with merchant complaints, led to an ending of the innovation before its 90-day trial period was half over.

Surely there will be gloating — people are human, after all — but there also should be more than a little respect for the city for trying out something that works perfectly well elsewhere, and acting on the lessons from the trial on a timely basis.

The kiosk experiment, which applied to just 5 percent of Keene’s 880 parking meters, was modestly scaled, and represented an initiative that, had it worked, might have helped cover municipal costs without sending motorists to the poorhouse.

As a practice, government officials are wise to look out for new ways of doing things, as opposed to keeping their feet in cement.

And they are right to measure the impact of what they do — as they did in this case — and act on what they learn. Keene’s City Hall performed well in both regards in connection with the parking kiosks, and deserves credit for the experience, not criticism.

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