By: Laura Schulte, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Feeding downtown parking meters with change might soon be a thing of the past.
The city on Dec. 12 discussed using an app to run parking payments, and approved moving forward to explore the plan more. The city has been considering a revamp of the downtown parking system since 2014, when a parking survey was done. Last year, it put out a request for companies to handle license plate recognition software and updated parking meters. The city decided to go with two different companies for the needed equipment: Passport Parking and Complus Data Innovations.
The city of Wausau will likely use the Passport Parking app, which would allow drivers to pay for downtown parking, in metered spaces as well as parking lots and ramps, from their smartphones. The app would also facilitate the purchase of digital parking permits, which would eliminate the administrative process currently involved monthly or annual parking.
The city favors the Passport app because many Wisconsin cities already use it, said MaryAnne Groat, the city's director of finance.
"Because its presence is so strong in Wisconsin, we thought it would be more convenient," she said. "You'll be able to use the same app in those communities."
La Crosse, Stevens Point, Green Bay and Appleton all use the app to pay for hourly parking and longer-term permits.
Eventually, parking meters throughout the city will be updated as well, to allow users to pay with a credit card on a kiosk if they prefer not to use the app, Groat said.
Though many parking spaces will continue to be free for up to two hours of parking, users will be able to load time on to their space instead of having to move their cars. Users wouldn't even have to be near their car at the time either — all they would have to do is fire up the app, choose to add more time and pay the fee.
The app will also help users find parking, as will new signage around the city that will be placed to help visitors find their way to parking, Groat said.
Complus Data Innovations will handle the software for the city's license plate recognition program, Groat said, which would eliminate the need for physical parking permit hang-tags. Parking enforcement officers would simply be able to drive through lots, garages and along streets, and the technology would quickly read plates, noting whether owners have a permit, already paid for parking or are in violation, said Christian Schock, Wausau's economic development director.
The new parking systems will be slowly rolled out, Groat said, likely beginning in February, after the plan has been approved by the city council. Starting then, residents, visitors and customers will be able to purchase permits online. After that, purchasing time by hours for a parking spot will become available; then, new meters and kiosks will be installed, and finally, license plate recognition software will be rolled out.
Groat expects the process to be completed by 2019. After being installed, the city would be expected to pay $500 a month to maintain the systems.
Elizabeth Brodek, the executive director of the River District, was a part of the parking advisory committee, as were parking enforcement officers, city officials and residents. She said this move will ultimately make shopping, dining or just spending time downtown easier when it comes to parking.
"We live in a time where people don't carry change in a wallet, let alone a wallet," she said. "It will be less of a hassle and make (parking) a lot more accessible."
Brodek said she believes the move positions downtown Wausau as a progressive city, following in the steps of other cities throughout the state.
"The fact that we're coming in line with the 21st century is encouraging to see," she said.