Chris Melendez of Modesto wasn't sure what to make of the automated pay station in the Tenth Street Place parking garage.
Sometime in the next few weeks, people will start paying the machine, instead of an attendant, to use the parking structure and the two other city garages in downtown Modesto.
On Wednesday, the newly installed machines were getting mixed reaction from people who noticed them.
"I love coming downtown because of the atmosphere," Melendez said. "But this is not so great. They should at least have one on every floor."
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Charles Ray Evans II called the machine an "excellent choice," which should make for a quicker exit from the garage after conducting business at City Hall. "I use them in the Bay Area and they have always worked for me," Evans said.
The city will have three automated pay stations each in the parking structures at Tenth Street Place and on Ninth Street, and two in the 11th Street garage.
There is bound to be a learning curve for the public, and people are questioning whether the garages will be as safe at night after the gate attendants are gone.
City officials say they want to start generating enough income from the parking facilities to pay for maintenance and improvements. The part-time jobs of 20 to 30 attendants who collect parking fees will be eliminated in coming months.
The parking fees will stay at $1 an hour, or a flat $5 rate from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Employees and business owners who work downtown can pay monthly rates for parking.
"We have to find the most efficient way to provide services. The services have to pay for themselves," said interim Public Works Director Dennis Turner.
The new machines are able to charge different rates at different times of day. But there are no immediate plans to use that feature, Turner said.
Drivers entering the garage will pull a ticket at the gate and then find a parking spot and go about their business. When they return, they insert the ticket in the machine and it tells them how much they owe.
Each machine accepts from $1 to $20 bills or credit cards. After accepting payment, the machines give customers an exit ticket, which is inserted in the gate station so they can leave the garage.
The machines will accept validations issued by downtown businesses for one to four hours of free parking.
Turner said city staff members have tested the machines and found they are easy to use.
"The first time I used them in Sacramento, I put the ticket in and used my ATM card, and had my exit ticket in 30 seconds or less," he said.
Getting going soon
There is no firm date for putting the pay stations in use, but it will be in the next few weeks. Staff will be on hand to address problems and assist customers during the transition.
In 2006, a consultant's report said Modesto was losing $720,000 in annual revenue with its lax management of parking facilities. Automated pay stations were one of the nine recommendations for increasing net parking income.
The city expects to take in $1.35 million from parking fees in the coming year. The pay stations won't boost revenue by much, but cutting expenses will allow for building reserves for upkeep and improvements, Turner said.
In March, the City Council approved a $790,427 contract with Sacramento-based Amano McGann Inc. to purchase and install the systems.
Some people have been critical of pay machines that replaced parking meters at five city parking lots. During the noon hour Wednesday, only three cars were parked in the Ninth Street lot between McDonald's and Skewers restaurant.
"This lot was packed and, since they put that machine in, no one parks here," said Steve Crifasi, who used a disabled parking space.
An employee at the Piccadilly Deli & Sandwich Shop said daytime customers stopped using the lot, because they have to pay in one-hour increments, whereas they used to put a few coins in the meters.
Others suggested that the parking garages will be less secure once the attendants are gone.
"I've had my vehicle broken into in the garage before," said Ricardo Garcia, a supervisor at the Fat Cat nightclub on 11th Street. "I think I would risk parking it on the street."
Councilman Dave Lopez said the new technology will remove human contact at the parking structures, and it may be confusing for some seniors.
"I want to make sure the citizens are taken care of," he said. "It seems we are going to automation with everything. I hope everyone gets the hang of it."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at 578-2321 or firstname.lastname@example.org