Drivers adjusting to parking kiosks, app in downtown State College

jvanderk@centredaily.comAugust 29, 2013 

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— When thousands of visitors arrive in the region on Sept. 7 for Penn State’s first home football game and encounter the new parking payment kiosks, borough parking officials will be ready to help.

Parking Manager Charles DeBow said he thinks people are getting the hang of the new kiosks, stationed late this spring in borough parking lots to replace individual meters. Visitors can pay with cash or credit card at the kiosks, or use a mobile application and pay a 35-cent convenience fee. The app and kiosks allow people to receive text messages when their time is about to expire and add more time if they wish.

“People love the app,” DeBow said. “I haven’t heard one bad thing about the app.”

DeBow is making a few tweaks to help people parking downtown, like new signs to offer the information needed most often.

“There’s no sign that says, if the screen is blank, press any button,” he said. “Those little things you don’t think of until you stand there and watch people.”

DeBow also has promoted the app as a way to make parking payments quicker for visitors who find themselves waiting in line at a kiosk. He said he thinks the process will go quicker as people continue to learn the system.

“We’re prepared to add machines if needed, but we’re going to wait,” he said.

The kiosks operate in the Beaver Avenue and Allen Street municipal lots and on the first floor of the McAllister parking deck. The borough and Downtown State College Improvement District have made several other recent changes to parking downtown, in addition to the kiosks.

Perhaps the biggest shift is that street parking meters now operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The rate is $1 per hour. In the municipal lots, the rate is 75 cents per hour, also from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Previously, parking on the street was free after 6 p.m. and, in the lots, parking was free on Thursdays after 6 p.m.

The latter confused people, and DeBow said officials wondered if the downtown was busy on Thursday nights because of the additional free parking.

“What we ended up finding out is people didn’t know about it anyway,” he said. “We found out people were paying anyway.”

In addition, DID Executive Director George Arnold said it’s difficult for visitors to find a parking spot downtown after 6 p.m.

“As we started working on parking, that’s what we were looking at,” he said. “How do we make it more convenient for people to come downtown and shop.”

DeBow said the most popular change is that to the three downtown parking garages, on Beaver Avenue, Fraser Street and Pugh Street.

Under the new pricing structure, the first half-hour of parking is always free.

“If you’re in and out in a half-hour, there’s no charge,” DeBow said. “It coincides with, let’s try to get people into the garages and off the street, to clear up the perception of clogged streets.”

In addition, the daytime rate is 50 cents per half-hour, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The rate drops to 50 cents per hour from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. A special overnight parking pass is available for $25 per month, covering the hours of 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.

“In essence, we went to a dollar an hour (from 75 cents), but you don’t see that until an hour and a half,” DeBow said. “It’s a little more affordable in the short-term.”

He said garage rates haven’t increased in at least seven years, and the new fees will help pay the borough’s debt on the Beaver garage. About $19.4 million in debt is left. The Fraser and Pugh garages were paid off in 2012.

Arnold said the DID printed 5,000 information cards on the new parking fees and hours, distributing them to businesses to hand to employees and customers.

“Everyone that has received that has said that makes sense,” he said, though some people still say free parking would be ideal.

DeBow said the new structure is closer to that ideal.

“For a quick trip, you now can basically park for free in the downtown,” he said.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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