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New tool keeps track of parking

Handheld computers show how long a car has been on a block. Also, pay stations are making a limited return.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- A lime green parking ticket envelope under the windshield wiper -- not a chalk mark on the tire -- will soon be the first evidence that a parking officer was watching how long a car stayed in a downtown parking space.

Parking officers now have handheld computers to keep up with the tag numbers of cars parked in a block. Every two hours, the enforcers will return to the block to make sure that all the tags entered in the computer have disappeared.

Those that haven't -- even if they have moved on the same block -- will get a ticket.

"You're supposed to know: "If I park here, it's 9 (a.m.) and it's a two-hour zone, I should be out of here by 11," said city parking manager Phil Oropesa.

And the two hours of on-street parking won't always be free, either. Parking is free now because electronic French pay stations the city installed in 1998 were a dismal failure and city officials threw up their hands.

The city sold back half the machines to the manufacturer at a big loss.

It still owns 110, and over the next two weeks, Oropesa is reinstalling some of them in the neighborhood around City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.

Oropesa was hired on after the city's fiasco with the machines, but he says he has been around the block with them in his previous job in New York City and can make them work well here. If the trial project around City Hall works out, he will expand it to other parts of downtown.

"We're basically dumbing the machine down," Oropesa said. "We're taking out the numeric keypad."

Motorists will simply put in coins or bills, press the green button and get a receipt that shows when their time expires. That receipt goes on the dashboard.

That is how the machines work at St. Pete Beach, and signs tell beachgoers so.

"They work nothing like the ones in St. Petersburg used to," St. Pete Beach City Manager Carl Schwing said Monday. "They're easy; they're working well, and we have not received any complaints. They are self-explanatory."

For St. Petersburg's do-over, Oropesa said he will post clear signs with the international capital P for parking and a sign with an arrow telling people to pay at the nearest station.

"Two stations per block, so you don't have to walk as far," he said.

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