One of Athens’ new smart parking meters, currently installed on Court Street between Washington and Union Streets. The new parking meters are expected to be installed citywide within the year.

Athens Parking Meters – Change for Change Sake

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Quarters only? Soon, all meters in Athens will take credit cards.

Most drivers in Athens carry bags of quarters to feed the meters, but if you’ve parked on Court Street between Union and State Streets, you may have paid with your credit card.

Now a system is being installed that will allow you do that at any metered spot in the city.

After city council passed an ordinance last October, Athens entered into a five-year lease with IPS Group, a San Diego-based company, to install 550 smart parking meters. The meters accept coins, debit/credit cards and payments through the company’s app: Park Smarter.

The new payment options aren’t the only benefit to consumers, according to Ron Lucas, deputy service-safety director for the city.

Ron Lucas, deputy service-safety director for the city of Athens.

“Being able to utilize the app, you’ll be able to see in real-time what parking spaces are available,” he said. “If I’m a person that wants to park, I can open up the app and I can see that there might be a space available at that time on Court Street.”

The city will also designate very popular parking spots as “high intensity” zones, according to Lucas. Those spaces will cost $1 to park for an hour. Some “low intensity” spots will cost as little as 25 cents per hour. Lucas said that while it may mean more money to the city from parking, that’s not the full intent of the designations.

“We were able to see through observation that there are parking spaces available, even when the uptown area is completely filled,” he said. “Making that more of an attraction to people by charging a lesser rate at those areas might be something that we can do to fill up the perimeter parking and open up some of the higher-demand parking.”

In addition, the city will designate certain zones as “rapid” parking spots, which will cost 25 cents for 10 minutes, but have a 20-minute time limit, Lucas said. He cited bookstores, coffee shops and takeout restaurants as examples of useful locations for the rapid spaces.

But the smart meters aren’t just about ease for the consumer, Lucas said. They also make things easier on enforcement.

“[Parking enforcement officers] will have an iPhone, and it has everything they need in real time, because all these things communicate via cellular,” Lucas said. “I know when someone’s legal and I know when someone’s illegal within seconds.”

Lucas also said the new meters will make it easier for the city to change the rates as they see fit, rather than the difficult manual process it currently is.