Motorists parking in Beaufort might soon be able to use credit cards -- not just coins -- to pay for metered spaces as the city tries once again to update a parking system that always seems to arouse controversy.
The city plans to update its parking meters, some of which are broken, as some have discovered recently ... but only after inserting their change.
The new meters look much like the current models -- the kiosks that proved unpopular when the city last tried a major overhaul of its system will not return. However, the new meters will accept credit and debit cards and dollar coins. They are not set up to accept dollar bills, though.
There is no minimum limit for using a credit card.
The plan is to start with 10 new meters spaced along Bay Street, to see how well downtown visitors respond. They are expected to be in place by early April.
"It's only a toe in the water just to try it," Mayor Billy Keyserling said.
The last time the city tried meters that accept credit cards was summer of 2010, when kiosks were installed for many of the city's spaces. However, business owners and motorists complained that they were confusing and ugly, and the city returned most of the old coin meters in January 2011, confining kiosk use to the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot, the parking lot by the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park playground and the Beaufort Library.
Parking manager Lundy Baker said in a press release that accepting cards makes it easier for people to buy more time to park. He expects motorists also will be more inclined to pay for more time if they can use their cards than if they relied on the spare change in their pockets. That should, in turn, mean more revenue that can offset the cost of new meters.
The combination meters cost $595, while change-only replacements would be $450.
Keyerling said this change will not please everyone.
"Those who want free parking will not be happy with this," he said. "Those who want to see easier, more flexible parking, this might be an answer."
Most of council remains committed to the idea of paid parking, which he said is proven to increase turnover in parking spaces.
Councilman Mike McFee said that although he prefers free parking, there has to be a way to pay for enforcement. After paying for the city's contract with Lanier Parking Services proceeds are divided between Main Street Beaufort, USA, which receives 15 percent of the remainder, and the Redevelopment Commission, which receives 85 percent.
A free-parking trial several years ago ended with officials learning most of the parking spaces were being taken by downtown employees, McFee said.
To counteract that, Main Street Beaufort worked out a deal last year to provide tokens for all-day parking businesses could provide to employees or customers. They were originally $1 apiece, but are now $2. Those tokens are good only for the parking lot on West Street, however, not for the meters.