Major changes are underway for downtown Sioux Falls parking. Upgrades are in their trial stages and they'll be branching out to other areas within the city's core.
Thousands of people park in downtown Sioux Falls everyday, including Mari Stensgaard. She's lived next to the 1st Avenue parking ramp as its undergone major updates.
"I think the upgrades are helpful. It is nice that they're all automated and get in and out, and get everything done," Stensgaard said.
She's talking about the most expensive and noticeable upgrade: payment automation. And while the technology has only been in service a few weeks, it's winning over drivers.
After years of only accepting cash, the ramp now accepts credit card payments.
"The goal of that is to make it more convenient. We know that change is something that people don't often have. But most people do have a debit or credit card they can use," Public Parking Facilities Manager Matt Nelson said.
Drivers simply pull up, insert their ticket and pay with their bank card. Besides the convenience, the new technology also saves the city money.
Because the card reader is automated, Nelson says they no longer need employees accepting cash at the booth, which is an annual expense of $130,000. It's significantly more than what the city collected from drivers.
"When we looked at it too, we had to look at revenue, what we brought in there," Nelson said. "Annually we only brought in about $25,000 a year. We were paying over $100,000 to collect $25,000 and it just was not a good financial model."
The booth employees either retired or were reassigned to other duties within the city. Mary Johns lives and works downtown and says she doesn't mind paying for premium parking and appreciates the new card machine.
"I think we all understand there is a reason for parking fees and parking meters. If I can use my card and do that, I am happy. It doesn't bother me to pay," Johns said.
Based on the success of the new card machine, the city will consider expanding the technology to the Pavilion Ramp.
But plans are underway to expand the use of credit card meters along Phillips Avenue. Last summer, the city installed 30 new meters and they're proving successful. During the trial run, the city noticed drivers spent more time and money downtown than when using traditional coin meters.
"When someone uses a credit card, their average transaction is $1.30. If they use coins, their average transaction in the same meters is approximately 50 cents," Nelson said.
Perhaps the most significant change coming to downtown parking is the removal of the River Ramp that will be completely demolished in the next few months to make way for more development along the Big Sioux River.
Smaller upgrades have also taken place to improve parking security and energy efficiency. Two ramps are outfitted with 100 LED light fixtures, saving the city as much as $25,000 a year in electrical costs.
"It is much brighter. If somebody drives in there, it is almost like daylight. And a sense of security is increased for the user," Nelson said.
And that's one thing Stensgaard enjoys as she parks into the 1st Avenue ramp. But with the new automated upgrades, the city expanded the hours they charge customers to park, from 8 a.m. to 6 a.m. And that isn't sitting well with Stensgaard.
"I am not super excited about the changes because I do have to pay more. But they are nice for where I am at," Stensgaard said.
But Johns says the changes are exactly what's needed to support a growing and vibrant downtown.
"Well it is a convenience factor and I think that there is something about, in 2012 if we are making use of the technology that is available, I think that says something to our visitors and our residents alike, because it is just much more convenient," Johns said.
So in the next few months, keep an eye out for parking improvements that show the city isn't parked in neutral with its system.