Why is SDOT replacing the Pay Stations?

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) installed the current on-street pay stations between 2004 and 2010, so the oldest machines have been on the street almost 10 years. Almost all are past or nearing the end of their five-year warranty, which means the cost of maintaining a deteriorating asset base grows annually. As one example, within the past two years, we’ve had to go to the City Council with an emergency funding request to replace many modems because the communications network for those was being decommissioned.  The older technology in the current pay stations is slower to process transactions, provides less reliable cellular communication and includes old credit card readers no longer supported by the vendor.

Newer technology has several advantages for customers and for city staff who operate and maintain the system.  Credit card transaction times will decrease significantly, and new pay stations will be on a reliable communication platform well into the future.  New credit card readers allow the user to maintain control of their card, so they will no longer get stuck in pay stations.  New back-office software will improve our ability to detect problems remotely and fix them faster. Changes to rates can be made wirelessly from the office instead of downloaded manually at each machine.  New display screens provide an opportunity to better communicate information to the parking customer.  In addition, the new machines will be more resistant to graffiti. Finally, SDOT has made clear with all vendors that to guard against the possibility of additional technological changes in the next few years, vendors should describe how they will “future-proof” the City against both known and unknown changes to communications, payment technology, and parts obsolescence.

In short, many of the current pay stations are nearing the end of their useful lives, and replacing them will significantly improve the customer parking experience and our ability to effectively manage parking.

During last year’s budget process, the city estimated a 7-year cost of about $30 million, assuming a 7-year lease of new equipment.  Once we get through the Request for Proposals (RFP) process and select a vendor, it’s possible that final costs will come in below last year’s estimate.  Two of the four finalist vendors offer retrofit options in which the old housing on the street remains while the interior components are all changed out, which could result in substantial savings.  While not an insignificant amount of money, this 7-year investment will more than pay for itself.  Paid parking generated $37 million in revenues in 2013.  (As an aside, SDOT has actually lowered hourly parking rates in more areas than they’ve been raised since 2010, when the Council adopted a data-driven process for annual rate adjustments.)

We encourage you to visit the seven pay stations in the on-street trial (see map and information below), and let us hear from you. Take the survey at www.seattle.gov/transportation/newpaystations.htm or call us at (206) 733-9241 with your feedback. Feel free to send questions or comments to  Margo Polley at:  margo.polley@Seattle.gov  and she will be happy to respond to you.

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