HELENA – Helena leaders are taking a step toward upgrading paid parking equipment downtown.
The city has put out a bid for a company to provide new parking kiosks and so-called “smart” parking meters. The new equipment would give drivers the option pay with credit or debit cards instead of cash or tokens.
Dave Hewitt, director of the Helena Parking Commission, said many of the current meters and kiosks have been in place for decades.
This change is part of a larger plan to eventually require paid parking across more of downtown Helena. The city’s Downtown Master Plan called for fees to be added on “prime” parking spaces, close to downtown businesses. Currently, many of those spots offer free parking for one or two hours.
Smart meters will replace existing parking meters along streets like Cruse Avenue, Park Avenue and Lawrence Street. They will also be added to new locations, including parts of 6th Avenue and Fuller Avenue.
Kiosks will be added in a number of areas, like Last Chance Gulch, Broadway and the south end of Park Avenue. They will also replace the existing kiosks in public parking lots. Downtown visitors will enter their license plate number and pay the parking fee. Hewitt said the system will be paperless, so they will not need to return to their vehicle.
The meters and kiosks will eventually be linked to a smartphone app that drivers will be able to use to pay remotely.
“If they’re unable to get back to their vehicle, if they’re caught in a meeting or at lunch or something like that, they can use their smartphone to add more time to their meter,” said Hewitt.
Leaders say the change to paid parking is intended to encourage drivers to spend as little time as possible parked on the downtown streets. Hewitt said, in many cases, employees take up the most convenient free parking spots around businesses.
“That really ties up the prime parking space for the customers that want to come down and spend time in downtown,” he said. “That is the major complaint that we hear on a daily basis.”
He said the plan is to move downtown employees and other long-term parking to other locations.
The city will take bids for the new kiosks and meters through October. Hewitt said he hopes to begin installing the new equipment as soon as spring of 2019.
“We just hope the public is patient with us,” he said. “Like any new equipment or any new program, it’ll take some time to get some of the bugs worked out, but I’m confident we’ll get through it quickly.”
Hewitt said the city will also work over the coming months to meet with downtown businesses about the parking changes, and to educate the public about the new parking equipment.