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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Nashua installing solar-powered parking payment stations that accept credit, debit cards

NASHUA – It’s been a long time coming, but drivers in downtown Nashua soon will have a way to pay for parking that doesn’t require a fistful of change.

The city has begun installing 16 new solar-powered electronic parking payment stations along Main Street this week, between the Nashua River Bridge and East Hollis Street. The parking garages on Elm Street and High Street also will be outfitted with a pair each of electronic payment devices. ...

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NASHUA – It’s been a long time coming, but drivers in downtown Nashua soon will have a way to pay for parking that doesn’t require a fistful of change.

The city has begun installing 16 new solar-powered electronic parking payment stations along Main Street this week, between the Nashua River Bridge and East Hollis Street. The parking garages on Elm Street and High Street also will be outfitted with a pair each of electronic payment devices.

Parking rates won’t change, and the meters still will accept coins, but drivers will have the option to use credit and debit cards as well. A minimum charge of $1 will be required to use a card.

George Durante, program coordinator for the Nashua Office of Economic Development, said the city is hoping to roll out the meters quickly and get them operational within two weeks.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction for us, in terms of parking and keeping pace with other cities that are comparable to us,” he said.

The parking stations on Main Street will be “pay-and-display” style, meaning they provide a printed receipt that drivers will be required to leave on their dashboards.

The new stations inside the parking garages will use a different format. Drivers will be required to type in the number of a parking space to pay for parking time, and no printed receipt is required.

As part of the transition, parking cards will no longer be accepted by the new pay stations, but they’ll still be valid to use on side streets downtown.

To prepare for the change, the city distributed instructional flyers to business owners along Main Street. Most are ready to answer questions about the new technology, Durante said, although electronic stations have become fairly commonplace.

“I think a lot of people have been exposed to these things before in Hampton and Manchester, so I don’t think it’s so much a foreign concept as it was maybe five years ago,” he said, “so we expect it to go fairly seamlessly.”

The city received seven bids for the project last year. Tampa, Fla.-based CALEAmerica was selected to supply the 20 electronic units for $140,000. Money for the project came through the city’s “Capital Projects – City Buildings Fund.” The funds come from added revenue the city has raised since it altered parking meter zones and charges in November 2011.

T2 Systems, of Indianapolis, provided the related pay station software for $68,632, as well as handheld devices, data conversion tools and hosting services. The funding sources are split between the City Buildings Fund and the Traffic Violations Fund.

Workers began the process of installing the new stations Tuesday. The first step entails removing the old coin-operated parking meters, then eventually pulling the metal poles out of the ground.

The new stations are installed inside concrete pads, which are poured in locations that haven’t already been redeveloped through the city’s downtown sidewalks project. Durante said residents probably will see plywood and cones in those areas for a few days. Workers will drill bolts into the ground to attach the new pay stations to sections of the sidewalk that already have been refinished.

Along Main Street, business owners such as Cheryl Plunkett have been eager to see the new electronic payment systems installed. Plunkett owns Fresh of Nashua, a women’s clothing boutique located at 178 Main St., which has been open for five years. Plunkett said customers ask her to exchange cash for quarters on a daily basis.

“I think it’s a good thing, because I don’t have to run to the bank to get quarters for people,” she said.

At MT’s Local Kitchen & Wine Bar, assistant manager Rachael Morgan said it’s about time the city switched to an electronic payment system downtown, given the success of similar efforts in places like Portsmouth and Manchester.

“I think it’ll be a great idea,” she said. “I think that it’ll be a cleaner way to keep track of things.”

Alec’s Shoe Store manager Wendell Palmer said he doesn’t believe customers have faced difficulty finding parking near the shop, given the 90-minute parking limit in the downtown area, but it was a hassle for them to carry around change for the meters.

“I think it’s going to be 100 percent better,” he said.

The switch to a high-tech payment system also will present new opportunities for city workers to streamline collection and maintenance. The stations are expected to be more reliable, and they’ll be programmed to send electronic alerts to the Transportation Department when there’s a problem. The parking data also is expected to provide a more accurate look at how downtown parking spaces are being used.

“This is going to give us a much more comprehensive picture of downtown parking,” Durante said.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).