Gate arms project aims to simplify parking, boost revenue for Columbia

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COLUMBIA - Consistency could be coming to city-owned parking garages in Columbia in three to six months.

Currently, only one garage has an access control gate arm system, but a nearly $1 million investment will put new systems in all six garages.

The public works department held an open house meeting at city hall Tuesday to talk about the new systems that could go into the garages. With the new technology, DATAPARK, the city will be able to better monitor the garages’ occupancy levels among other things according to transit parking manager Drew Brooks.

“Right now we really don’t have a good feel for occupancy levels at any given time during the day,” Brooks said. “This will help us to, in real time, know what the occupancy of the garage is and really kind of analyze what the parking needs are for the city with the data we’re going to be able to derive from this equipment.”

In addition, the new system in the garages is projected to increase city parking revenue by 10 percent. Brooks said that right now, someone can pull into the garages and essentially get lucky if they park without paying while a parking enforcement officer isn’t at the garage.

“Currently, most of the garages are almost on an honor system,” he said. “With this new equipment you’re going to have to pay for parking if you’re going to exit. You pull a ticket when you enter, you’re going to scan that ticket on the way out and it’s going to tell you how much you need to pay for.”

Brooks said the process for the new system won’t be complicated. For hourly parkers, drivers pull into the garage and pull a ticket and the gate arm opens. Then, parkers can pay at an on-foot pay station on the first floor with cash, card, or CoMo Park Card. The other option for drivers is to pay on their way out of the garage while in their vehicle by scanning the ticket and then paying with a card.

For those customers who have monthly permits, they will receive a hang tag with an RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) chip in it that will open and close the gate for them automatically.

Sandy Litecky, owner of Bluestem Missouri Crafts downtown, went to the meeting Tuesday and said she hopes the technology won’t be too complicated.

“It sounds like it’ll work, they’ve researched it enough, which is good and hopefully it’s easy to use and won’t break down,” Litecky said. “As long as the machines work and they’re reliable, it’s okay. It’s when they’re not reliable and the directions are hard to follow that it gets complicated.”

One way the city hopes to alleviate confusion is changing all six garages at the same time. Originally, last spring, the plan was to install one system per year in each garage. But, public works found cost savings in doing everything at the same time as well as more simplicity for the public.

“It reduces the confusion for the customer if they kind of know that every garage has the same format and the same entry and exit and payment methods, we think that’s a big win for the public,” Brooks said.

There will be a public hearing for the access control gate arms project on October 16 followed by a city council vote. If it passes, Brooks said he hopes everything will be installed and ready in three to six months. Right now, he’s confident it will pass.

“It’s been pretty favorable,” he said. “If you’ve been to other cities or parked in an airport or something like that, you should be pretty familiar with the concept. I think people are in favor of it and will see how much easier and consistent it will be.”