One of Chico’s new parking kiosks, east of Second Street east of Main Street in downtown Chico, California on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Ed Booth/Enterprise-Record)
CHICO – When Chico city officials unveiled electronic parking kiosks to downtown and the surrounding area in February, they believed they were using technologically advanced devices to make drivers’ lives easier and more convenient.
While that may be true for some people, a group of downtown merchants say it isn’t. In fact, owners or representatives of 39 businesses — such as Collier Hardware, North Rim Adventure Sports, Grana and Fleet Feet, to name a few — have announced that they really don’t like the new system.
The new gizmos – strategically spaced on every city block – promise to revolutionize parking in these pay zones. Instead of inserting coins into a traditional meter on a metal post next to a desired parking spot, drivers report to one of the kiosks and enter the car’s license plate information. Then, using a debit card, credit card or — yes — coins, the driver selects the desired time, pays, and leaves.
A driver can add time in the same parking space using a mobile application on the phone and pay remotely from an electronic “wallet”. There is no need to return to the car, for example, when the driver takes longer than expected to eat, or if the appointment takes a long time, it is a very convenient advantage. Saves the need to walk in bad weather.
With these advances in parking convenience for the motorist, what’s the problem?
Josh Mills, owner of the bookstore at 118 Main St., wrote a letter to Chico City Manager Mark Sorenson expressing his anger. As of February 23rd, the impact on our regular customer traffic and initial sales is severe, he wrote.
Mills said in the letter that the signer’s merchants “collectively … frustrated customers leaving the shopping district, filing numerous complaints (many and many saying they will not return) and receiving no relief from these negative consequences.”
He closed by pleading with Sorensen to “change this kiosk system,” but didn’t specify how he wanted Sorensen and other city officials to do it.
The Enterprise-Record visited Mills at his workplace Thursday afternoon, asking him to elaborate on the letter. He was not there; A woman at the sales counter said he was out of town until Friday and could not be reached by phone.
Carol Munson, owner of 5th Street Clothing Company at 328 Broadway, signed the petition. But she says her biggest concern with the new system is that it will be confusing for many of her older and middle-aged clients. Additionally, the kiosks frequently malfunctioned, further confusing those trying to use them.
“I’ve had so many customers tell me that some of my customers are ‘not going downtown anymore,’ so I signed it,” Munson said. “I said it was sad. You are missing out on what downtown has to offer.
“You mean they won’t come downtown again? I doubt it,” she added. Munson told the story of an elderly customer who parked at the meters on the old, traditional street a short distance from the store and got lost trying to find her car.
“She had an anxiety attack. We had to go find her car,” Munson recalled. “I’ve had customers who’ve done that — stood on an old meter.”
The switch to the new meters “wasn’t a positive thing, but maybe we can turn it into a positive,” she said, suggesting that the Downtown Chico property-based business improvement district have “ambassadors” — dedicated workers. Assisting visitors to the business district – Helping confused motorists tour the machines.
According to Sorensen, the ambassadors have already been trained in using the machines and are moving around the area, providing assistance when necessary. In fact, Sorensen said there will be stickers on the kiosks that will provide a phone number that users can call. The number calls with the ambassadors, then you can go to the problem area to help.
People who are not happy with the new classes feel that way because they don’t know how to use them. But the city has worked hard to educate the public about the kiosks, with businesses posting flyers, advertising on social media and television and print, and working on print jobs before switching to the new system. How to use video on social networks.
at 341 Main St. Ray Coppock, owner of Melody Records, wonders how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with the kiosk system.
“Not too often, not too often – I get complaints about why it’s done,” Coppock said. “No one said, ‘Hey, that was a good idea.’ It is interpreted as non-commercial.
Coppock said he’s not sure if the system has affected his business. “It’s hard to know,” he said. “No one said, ‘Hey, I don’t fit in.’ They tell me they don’t like them[kiosks]and it might keep them from coming downtown. I say 50 against and zero.
Coppock said he has never used the kiosks. “Scare them a little,” he said. “I get there before 9 and do my things, or park them where I don’t want to use them.”
Meter mocks are nothing new and certainly not unique to Chico. However, as the Enterprise-Record was downtown Thursday afternoon, a woman parked on East Second Street off Main Street got out of her car and walked past two kiosks on West Second Street and into a building.
Using old meters, two things can happen. She could pull into a spot where the meter had some “spare” time from the previous user, and so the meter would show a green “flag” to the parking enforcement officers. Or if she didn’t pay, the meter would show a red “flag” and officers would stop to issue a ticket for payment.
Sorensen said the kiosk system has a way of combating drivers. “A vehicle with an automatic license plate reader will roll,” he said. “That system knows exactly which license plates are there and which ones are not parking. It’s very accurate, efficient and effective.”
Enforcement is critical because the city is counting on meters to generate a significant amount of money for the budget in Chico. The meters will bring the municipality’s bank account to roughly $718,000 in the 2022-23 fiscal year, budget documents show.
There is no charge for parking on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
The Enterprise-Record checked downtown parking around 2:30 p.m. Thursday and estimated that 85 to 90 percent of the spaces on Main Street and Broadway and First, Second, Third and Fourth streets were occupied. East of Main Street, the rate drops to 70 to 75% – but still a significant number of users. These estimates do not count the cars parked in urban areas, which are m.
at 220 W. Fourth St. Greg Scott, who operates the Diamond Hotel and Steakhouse, is president of the DCBA. The process should be simple, but the issue, he said, is how city officials rolled out the change to the kiosks in February.
“I’m not against the kiosks,” Scott said. “I was not happy with how it was released. From other business owners and members of the public, “I’m getting a lot of grief over this, even though we[the DCBA]have no relationship.”
“A lot of cities use this system, but I think lack of familiarity has a lot to do with it,” Scott said, citing the source of user frustration. “We have had two trainings for the ambassadors to go out and be active and help. We also printed postcards telling people how to use them.
Scott said people also expressed frustration when they used credit or debit cards — what he called a “convenience fee” of 35 cents per transaction. “It seems too high to charge 35 cents instead of 25 cents (the minimum possible fee) just for parking,” he said.
“I think it’s a very poorly thought out planned release,” he said. “We found out about the DCBA literally a week before it was scheduled,” he said in February. “He didn’t have time to prepare.
One of the issues is that the system accepts coins but takes an extra step to open the door. Allow the user to enter them.
Scott said the system’s introduction “caused a real uproar,” but he recalled when the city raised parking prices several years ago. “It caused a real brouhaha,” he said.
As DCBA president, Scott said he is working to set up meetings with business owners to address the issues and listen to what they have to say.