- Associated Press - Sunday, August 17, 2014

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - The Sioux City business group Downtown Partners wants to use technology to make city parking meters more user-friendly.

The nonprofit organization is looking into whether meters can be payable via a smartphone app, the Sioux City Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1oMN7Su ). That change, says the group’s director Ragen Cote, would address some of the biggest complaints she’s heard about parking downtown.

“A lot of people nowadays don’t carry change,” Cote said. “I never have change. We want to look into the possibility of getting a parking app for smartphones, rather than physically putting change in the meters.”

Cities including Chicago, Miami and Dallas have similar apps. The systems work by having a special code on each meter. Users scan the code with a phone and pay the fee with a credit or debit card. Meter workers can see if a meter is paid using the same app.

“Say I’m at a meeting and it’s supposed to last two hours, but it’s running over,” Cote said. “(The app) lets me know that I’m running out of time and tells me how much money I’m able to add if there’s a limit on that meter.”

Sioux City has about 1,300 meters on streets and in public parking downtown to encourage turnover in the limited parking places available. Meters have varying time limits of one, two, four and 10 hours.

For most of those machines, a quarter will net drivers 20 minutes. For 75 cents, they can get an hour.

Each year, Downtown Partners conducts a community survey on downtown parking issues. This summer they asked Sioux City residents if they’d like to see a parking app. The survey results are expected to be announced later this month.

City parking supervisor Monette Harbeck says the city is aware of rising demand for the system, and is looking at the possibilities.

“We’re researching it right now,” Harbeck said. “We don’t have definitive answers at the moment, but we’ve been in contact with different companies about it.”

Because of the way the software works, no meters would have to be replaced. Meter workers would have to have smartphones or a tablet computer with the app. Similar apps require users to pay a fee before downloading.

Encouraging downtown growth has been a city priority. Large projects in recent years have included the redevelopment on Historic Fourth and Pearl streets; the reconfiguration of Wesley Parkway; and the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City.

The city also operates municipal garages. The City Council would have to approve any changes. There is no timeline.

Kelli Engel, who owns Alainn clothing store at 411 Pearl St., said the current meter system isn’t friendly to businesses.

“There’s no mercy down here whatsoever,” she said. “I’ve been in this spot for three years. I’ve probably paid at least 25-30 tickets myself.”

Engel said she, like her customers, often goes into the store and returns to the meter just minutes after it’s expired.

Meters are monitored from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the fine for an expired meter is $9.

Ritch Stolpe, owner of Briar & Bow Archery at 405 Pearl St., feels the same way.

“They certainly have an impact on my business,” Stolpe said. “I’ve had customers come in from out of town who got ticketed and told me it was the last time they’d ever come to downtown Sioux City.”

Stolpe doesn’t use a smartphone and said he isn’t certain what impact a parking app would have on his business, but Engel called the idea “a great option” for her customers.

“I definitely think it would put customers at ease,” Engel said. “They wouldn’t feel like they’re being rushed or they have to drop everything they’re doing to plug the meter.”

Cote said the change would be helpful throughout the downtown area.

“I’d hope this helps a lot,” Cote said. “It doesn’t affect parking meters - their purpose still stays in place. This helps people who just don’t have change.

“People are using their cards, paying online. This type of thing should be happening,” she added.

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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