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SALT LAKE CITY — Despite revamping its troubled parking meters last month, Salt Lake City still carries a negative parking reputation in the eyes of nearly half of its residents.
A UtahPolicy.com poll released Wednesday shows city residents are split on their satisfaction with the city’s new parking kiosks: 51 percent strongly or somewhat like the meters, 45 percent strongly or somewhat dislike them. The rest did not express an opinion.
Ever since the blue parking kiosks were installed downtown in 2012 at the cost of $4.3 million, residents have complained that they are confusing to use, dimly lit for nighttime use, and riddled with credit card operation errors as well as other technical issues. The whole system even crashed for 10 days during the summer of 2013 due to heat damage.
That's why the city upgraded the 300 solar-powered parking kiosks with software improvements, new keypads, improved lighting and faster payment-processing times. The $600,000 improvements were paid for with contingency funds withheld from the original $4.3 million contract with the kiosks' provider in case the meters didn't work as promised.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker unveiled those upgrades March 3. However, the information for Wednesday's poll was gathered April 9-15, slightly more than one month after the upgrades. The poll was conducted by Dan Jones and Associates and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.12 percent.
Art Raymond, spokesman for Becker, said it will likely take time — especially more than just one month — to repair Salt Lake City's damaged parking reputation.
"We absolutely take responsibility for the challenges that people have had with the new systems, and that unfortunately comes with the realm of bringing new technology online," Raymond said. "We know it's going to take some time for people to erase those negative experiences with much better experiences. But we're very confident that the new hardware and software really has changed and made less erroneous the task of paying for parking downtown."
However, Raymond added that the poll should be considered with a "sizable grain of salt" because it did not distinguish between those who may have struggled with the old kiosks but have not tried the kiosks that were upgraded last month.
We absolutely take responsibility for the challenges that people have had with the new systems, and that unfortunately comes with the realm of bringing new technology online. We know it's going to take some time for people to erase those negative experiences with much better experiences. But we're very confident that the new hardware and software really has changed and made less erroneous the task of paying for parking downtown.
–Art Raymond, spokesman for mayor Ralph Becker
Raymond said so far, the mayor's office has received "overwhelmingly positive" public input about the upgrades. But Jones said the poll's split numbers suggest the city's parking is still controversial, and city officials still need to make strides to improve public opinion of the system.
"Parking really could become an issue of this year's mayor's race in Salt Lake," Jones said.
Democrats Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake City Council Chairman Luke Garrott, who are running to unseat Becker as mayor, both said they're still hearing complaints from residents despite the overhaul. They also believe downtown parking will likely be an important re-election issue for Becker.
"As we've canvassed, we've found the same discussion going on on the doorsteps that they found in the poll," Biskupski said. "New meters do not equal issues resolved. I certainly believe that there are voters out there who will vote against the mayor simply because of the parking meters."
Garrott said being on the City Council as part of the decision-making to implement the electronic meters has been a "rough road" for him. He said he even regrets voting for the new meters.
"The vendor never delivered anything close to what was promised, and we got stuck with these machines that obviously a lot of people weren't happy with," he said, adding that while the upgrades helped, they did not solve all of the issues.
"There are other elements that aren't working for people," Garrott said. "The phone app works great for some people, but once your time's up you can't renew it, for example. There are issues with the hours of parking, and you don't get a receipt that you can use at a different parking space. So there's still a long litany of issues."
Raymond said the city will continue to strive for "100 percent user satisfaction," which includes launching a new mobile phone parking app called ParkSLC to replace the city's previous parking app, Quick Pay. While ParkSLC is available now for download, Raymond said the city will officially unveil the app in roughly two weeks.
"With any system, there's always room for improvement," he said. "We want to make sure anybody who comes to Salt Lake and needs to pay for a parking spot can do so effortlessly, so we're continuing to move in that direction."
Katie McKellar is a Dixie State University graduate with a bachelor of science in mass communication. Before interning at Deseret News, she reported and edited news content for Dixie Sun News, first as Photo Editor, then as Features Editor. Email: email@example.com