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Milwaukee Testing "Smart Parking Meters"

Milwaukee has nearly 7,000 on-street metered parking spaces. Many of the meters are more than 20 years old, rusty, and ready to die. So the city has a plan to replace them with smart meters— high-tech systems that allow cities to change parking prices at any time.

"So compared to the old days when we had to go out to change plates and update the mechanism, we can now just simply remotely with the push of a button, update those meters to reflect a different restriction or a different rate," Tom Woznick, Milwaukee’s Parking Operations Manager, explained.

Smart meters also send real-time information back. If a meter stops working, the city gets an alert and can send someone out to the fix the meter as soon as possible.

Some brands use sensors to send even more data back, like which parking spots are occupied and how long someone stays parked in a spot. Stats like that can be used to adjust rates based on demand.

"We want the spaces to be occupied and we also want there to be turnover so if you're driving downtown or in whatever area you're going, you can find a spot," Woznick said.

Parking prices in the city of Milwaukee currently range from 25 cents an hour to $1.50 depending on location. Any change in price would have to be voted on first and would then be listed on the city’s website. According to Woznick, prices would likely change quarterly at the most, but they could also change for special events.

"So it may be on a Saturday or Sunday, or maybe even the week during Summerfest, that the city could say yeah, anyone who's down here after 5 PM is going to pay a $10 flat rate to park from 5 PM to midnight for example," Mike Nickolaus, President of CivicSmart explained.

CivicSmart is a Milwaukee-based company that made thousands of the parking meters currently around the city. His company is also part of a trial underway to pick the new meters.

"The city is going back to putting meters at every space so that you, as a motorist, have the convenience of paying right next to where you park,” Nickolaus said.

The city is testing smart meters from three companies and the trial is happening in five areas: Broadway in the Third Ward, Old World Third Street, Brady Street, North Avenue, and an area at Oakland and Locust.

One of the requirements for the new meters is they have to accept various forms of payment. That means you can use your debit or credit card, pay with your cell phone through the MKE Park app, or use good old-fashioned coins.

"We get 40% of payments from coins still, but most customers want the flexibility and convenience of not only paying with an app remotely, but also paying with a credit card directly," Woznick said.

There are notices in some of the trial areas that direct drivers to fill out an online survey rating their satisfaction with the smart meters. The city starts its evaluation next month, but it will be two to three years yet before all the meters get replaced.

Each smart meter costs between $250 and $500 dollars depending on which one the city chooses. The city’s parking meters brought in $5.2 million in revenue over the last two years.  

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