The city of Keene has been using two new electronic multi-space parking kiosks since Dec. 31. The meters were being used in a 90-day trial run that was set to end sometime in late March.
A 2010 report by Downtown Parking and Planning Associates, a Limited Liability Corporation hired by the city of Keene, reported that the new multi-space meters would be good for Keene for the following reasons: more payment options, ease of use, reduced labor, and less visual clutter.
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The trial period for the multi-space meters ended yesterday due to large scale dissatisfaction expressed by members of the Keene community. The trail lasted only 40 days.
“Although a 90-day trial period was requested, it appears that the trial period already undertaken is sufficient to indicate this technology will not work at this time within the City of Keene and that it will not produce the benefits originally believed,” Keene Police Chief Kenneth J. Meola said in a letter to City Manager John Maclean and the Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee.
Currently, Keene uses the classic single space meters which take only quarters.
The multi-space kiosks, which are about half the size of a traditional vending machine, accepted both cash and coins and ran at the same cost as the classic meters.
The only difference, of course, is that they are electronic multi-space meters; they were being used for 47 parking spaces.
To pay for parking, patrons were required to walk a few extra feet from their car, plug the number of their parking space into the machine, and pay for their desired time. Parking space numbers were posted at the head of every two parking spaces.
The two meters used in the trial were at the end of Main Street right before the circle, essentially in the center of town.
As soon as the machines were installed in December, the backlash was dealt out early and often by a large portion of the Keene community, and it did not let up until Feb. 8, when the trial period officially ended.
Many residents used social forums on the internet, like the Keene Sentinels comments section, to express their opinions.
One of the most talked about topics was the supposedly lucrative benefits of the new meters.
Even with the prices remaining the same, the town planned to see a 30 percent rise in profits if the new meters became the standard in Keene.
This paradox existed because the new meters would have eliminated something known as “piggybacking,” which is essentially parking at a meter that still has time left.
If a patron paid for two hours at a space but left after thirty minutes, that space then became cleared electronically. All open parking spaces would have always read zero.
An online comment on the Keene Sentinel’s website by a user ironically named, “outoftowner” detailed an interesting and rather simple solution to piggybacking.
“Here’s an idea. Program the kiosks so if a driver returns early, he or she can get a refund for the unused portion of the time they already paid for. That would be fair.”
To many residents, piggybacking seemed like part of the Keene culture. The allure of walking up to a meter after parking and finding out that it had 30 minutes left on it was a treat and a sort of unspoken bit of altruism.
Residents thought the new meters would have taken away the inherent possibilities of selflessness and gave parking in Keene a blander and more streamlined, utilitarian feel.
Scott, a Keene resident who frequents Prime Roast -a coffee shop right in the center of the new parking experiment- believes that the there may be a time and place for the new, more utilitarian meters, but it’s not now, and certainly not in the heart of downtown.
“It’s too big of a jump right now,” Scott said, “the parking lot on Gilbo Avenue would be brilliant for this, but not on Main Street.”
Luan Udell, a resident of Keene expressed her concerns with the new meters in a widely read letter which was sent to the Keene Sentinel and published on the Sentinels website.
In the letter Udell said, “This system completely eliminates the concept of a great parking spot. It’s no longer in front of your destination store, because you still have to go out of your way to get to the kiosk.” She goes on to say, “This morning, I went to Prime Roast for coffee. The row of spaces in front of their store was completely empty, except for one car. I haven’t seen the street that empty, on a weekday morning, in 20 years.”
Casey Bernier, an employee at Prime Roast, echoed Udell’s concerns, “In the morning we lost business because people want to come in to get a quick cup.” They cannot do that with the multi-space meters which require them to walk to the meter and possibly stand in line. Bernier said that the decrease in business was certainly noticeable.
Interestingly, Manchester implemented a similar multi-space parking program in 2006 but did not receive any of the negative backlash that Keene experienced.
Denise Boutilier, the parking administrator for Manchester, when asked about possible backlash in Manchester said, “No, there really wasn’t any of that at all.”
Dylan Morrill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.