Columbia official breaks down how and why city uses parking meters

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COLUMBIA - We all pay them, or at least we should if we're parking in downtown Columbia: Parking meters. A Columbia Public Works official explained what the city does with the money it makes from parking meters.

Public Information Specialist Steven Sapp said the city makes about $1 million a year from parking meters, but the money isn't seen as revenue for the city.

"I think that's a common myth from a lot of people," Sapp said. "People that think a parking utility is there to create a lot of money for municipality and because it's set up as a utility, it simply can't occur."

Sapp said all the money the city makes from the parking meters goes back into a parking meter fund.

"That money is then used to repair, purchase new meters as needed," Sapp said. "It's used to pay the salaries of the folks that do the enforcement and do the meter repair, that administer to the parking utility division and so forth."

Instead of being seen as a way to make money, Sapp said parking meters are used to regulate the amount of time people park downtown.

"Parking meters are there to create turnover," Sapp said. "If you didn't have some mechanism to create turnover, people would simply park their cars in the downtown area and potentially leave them for hours or for days. And of course that is detrimental to business owners downtown who need that turnover for people to come in."

Sapp said there are 1,683 parking meters in Columbia that Columbia Public Works is responsible for.

Kim Getzoff said she uses them regularly.

"I usually come here at least once a day, either for restaurants or shopping," Getzoff said. "I even go to the post office very regularly, so I'm there dropping in coins."

Recently, the city upgraded about 170 of its parking meters to have the ability to accept credit cards. The money for the upgrade came out of the city's parking meter fund.

Another recent change to the city's parking meters is the time when people have to pay them. Before the time was 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. In January, that time changed to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"Most businesses in the downtown area don't really even open until 9 o'clock," Sapp said. "So starting enforcement at 8, for that hour period in there, there's really not a lot of parking that occurs downtown, and so the enforcement agents weren't really being real productive at that time frame."

Sapp said the mayor commissioned a parking task force several years ago to examine how the city could make downtown parking better, and this was one of the solutions.

With the time change, Sapp said it is too early to tell if it has affected the amount of money the parking meters make. With preliminary numbers, Sapp said the time change appears to have increased the parking meter revenue.

However, Sapp said the city will be able to know the effect of the time change once it has a year's worth of data.