Paying for a parking spot? Meters, kiosks must change

There’s kale and then there’s Cale. One is a green, leafy vegetable. The other is a type of “smart technology” […]

There’s kale and then there’s Cale. One is a green, leafy vegetable. The other is a type of “smart technology” parking meter or pay parking kiosk that could cost the cites of Minneapolis and St. Paul some green.

The kiosks take credit/debit cards, coins or bills. They also can be paid via a smartphone app. But the meters don’t meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessible design and must be retrofitted in order to settle litigation against the two cities. A settlement conference on the legal action was held in October.

Many people with disabilities have struggled to use the parking meter pay stations in in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, especially since the Cale system was installed several years ago. The biggest complaint is that for people who use wheelchairs or scooters, the buttons to punch to indicate parking space number and the pay slots for card or cards are too high to reach.

Some meters in the two cities meet ADA standards but others do not. When it’s considered that Minneapolis alone has 8,000 parking meters, any change can be a big task.

St. Paul plans to spend about $200,000 in 2020 to retrofit its existing meter pay stations, called kiosks, and adjust its coin-only meters to meet the operable parts heights limit requirements of the ADA standards for accessible design. The funds will come out of the city’s parking fund, which is derived from meter and ramp payments. The city will spend another $150,000 modernizing meters in the capitol area.

Much of St. Paul’s parking meter system isn’t compliant with the current ADA design standards, said Department of Public Works Director Kathy Lantry. Coin-operated meters have never met the standard until now. “They’ve been the way they’ve been since time immemorial,” she said. 

Some of the Cale or Flowbird kiosks are accessible but others are not. 

City Council members questioned how the city had inaccessible technology. Rebecca Noecker, who represents downtown St. Paul, asked, “How did we not know that this was a height requirement?” 

In St. Paul, Minneapolis and other cities, people with a disability parking placard can usually park for free if they meet the time requirement posted. For example, two hours of parking is free at a two-hour metered space. Some cities even have programs where people with a placard can park for free near a workplace, if no other parking option is available. 

Anyone with a smart phone can also use that to pay for a metered space, Lantry said. So, there are options. 

“It was not a conscious choice for us to say, oooh, let’s get the higher (meters),” she said. 

The question of whether por not a meter or pay kiosk is accessible under the ADA can be a matter of inches. Because the standards for accessibility have changed over time as meters are installed, that can add to the confusion. 

Other cities around the nation have also struggled with parking issues. Indianapolis had a debate over meter heights in 2013. Sacramento and Tucson had to lower their meters in 2015. Durango ran into the same issue two years later. 

Most cities allow motorists with disability placards or stickers to park for free for a time. Hartford, Conn. in fall 2017 dropped its longstanding practice of allowing motorists with placards to park for free. City officials there contended that the change was made to combat fraud. 

At the time the policy change was made, the Hartford Courant newspaper staff and New England ADA Center found that the bottom row of buttons on that city’s parking kiosks were about 50 inches from the ground. That’s two inches higher than the ADA’s required 15-to- 48-inch “unobstructed reach range,” for parking meters and other kiosks. 

City officials argued that the kiosks were grandfathered in from a 54-inch standard. 

Meters and kiosks are meant to be operable by people with limited manual abilities. Height is one issue. The Cale meters have also drawn complaints for having buttons that are hard to activate in cold weather. 

Questions about parking? The Minnesota Council on Disability provides detailed information on parking for motorists with disability placards or stickers, and for places wanting to provide parking for motorists with disabilities. Find this information at www.disability.state. 

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