ROCKPORT — Rockport's parking meters will become one more place to swipe your credit cards this August, when the town implements a trial of 30 electronic meters that will also bring a doubled parking rate in some high-traffic areas.
The town's selectmen, in a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, signed a contract with the parking and telecommunications company IPS Group, which distributes the meters, according to Selectwoman Erin Battistelli.
The contract sets in motion a 90-day trial of solar-powered, electronically-operated meters, Battistelli said.
The parking rate at the 30 electronic meters, which would be placed one at each of 30 parking spaces, will double from 50 cents per hour to $1 for the same amount of time, Battistelli said.
"This would be just a pilot project for the 90-day period," Battistelli said. "The rate changes are part of the information gathering."
Battistelli said the selectmen, who discussed the issue at their regular meeting Tuesday night, felt pressure to commit to a contract in order to set the date for a trial that would include part of the busy summer tourist season. Though the board had originally planned to discuss the meter trial and rate changes during their next public meeting on July 10, they decided to sign a contract and forego a public meeting when they met regarding another issue Wednesday, according to Battistelli.
"We were concerned about not making a commitment," Battistelli said. "I don't think that there would be a public concern because of the fact of the pilot status. It's not anything we're committing to in a long term way."
Under the pilot plan, the new meters — which will also accept coins for those who do still carry change — would be placed in high traffic zones like Main street and the areas from T-Wharf through Dock Square and Beach Street to Granite Street. Metered parking times in these zones will also change from the current 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to a system that would charge for parking between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Parking rates and meter times will stay the same elsewhere.
Regardless of all the changes, parking officials plan to continue providing discounted parking areas for Rockport residents.
Police Chief John "Tom" McCarthy, who sits on the Traffic and Parking Committee that proposed the new meters and modifications, said the change in hours for metered parking is meant to cater to Rockport residents who are out and about during the early-morning hours.
"The people that are out are the shopowners waiting to open up or people getting coffee," McCarthy said. "This is more just a convenience for these local people."
The Traffic and Parking Committee began its original hunt for a new meter system in hopes of finding a way to allow people to use credit cards make it more convenient to pay for parking, McCarthy said.
"Everybody seems to have a credit card these days, and it's just so convenient to swipe your card and go about your business," McCarthy said.
The meter distributor, IPS Group, reports that credit card payments comprise 30 percent of the revenue from 80,000 meters used across the United States and Canada, according to a company spokesman. He said that, when a user swipes a credit card to buy time, the meter encrypts the card data and sends it off to an IPS station. The card information is never stored in the system, the spokesman said.
McCarthy said the committee intends to use the 90-day trial period as a guide to determine if implementing the new meters townwide would be financially beneficial in the long run. Officials will analyze data collected during the trial period.
"It would give us the opportunity to see how much these types of meters would actually generate," McCarthy said.
The town would use the actual meters for free during the 90-day trial period, and any costs for implementing the system would be minimal, McCarthy said.
Each credit card transaction carries a fee of 13 cents for the town. But, McCarthy said, between the cost of installing the system and paying the credit card fees, the town will spend less than $2,000 on the meters during the 90-day trial.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x33451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.