DOWNTOWN — Pushing those nickels, dimes and quarters through parking meters can really add up.
In Tampa, they ring up to the tune of close to $2.1 million a year.
And if all goes as expected, that number could increase.
The city is rolling out new solar parking meters that officials say could help bring in an additional $250,000 annually.
The meters will be installed in phases, the first expected to be in use Monday. The final machine should be up and ready for use the week of Dec. 20.
The 146 machines and installation cost about $1.16 million and will replace 1,000 single-space meters in Tampa's downtown core. The new pay stations will be situated on sidewalks and in parking lots. Each can cover any numbered space downtown that is included in the solar parking system. They will accept credit and debit cards as well as coins. The city's remaining 425 antiquated mechanical and digital parking meters will stay in service.
To use the machines, just remember the parking space number. Signs will direct users to the pay stations, where instructions will guide them through the process.
The stations will be scattered throughout downtown, essentially bounded by Cass Street, Ashley Drive, the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and Nebraska Avenue.
Jim Corbett, the city's parking manager, said downtown visitors wanted more payment options. Cards are expected to be used more than coins in the new meters, he said.
The machines are expected to increase revenue by 6 to 10 percent, Corbett said.
One reason for the savings, he said, is that the machines don't allow drivers to skate by using unexpired time for which a previous user paid. With solar meters, each driver pays anew, even if the previous person left early.
Corbett said cost savings also will come as a result of meter coin collectors not needing to empty the machines daily.
Meter readers, rather than walking to each expired blinking meter, will just pull a report from the machine that shows the spaces that have been paid for.
The solar machines are just one way that area cities are updating their parking systems. In St. Petersburg, for instance, drivers can now pay by phone. Users can register with Parkmobile USA for free. A cell phone application sends a message when the meter is close to expiring. The user can then pay through that app by calling Parkmobile or through the Internet.
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or email@example.com.