On Wednesday morning, the Downtown Development Authority board operations committee got an update on the new parking payment kiosks which will soon begin replacing downtown Ann Arbor parking meters. The plan to install the devices, which will allow flexibility for payment and for rate-setting, has been reported in The Chronicle at least as long ago as last October.
The bases of the existing meters will remain in place, but they’ll be decapitated, with the coin receptacle to be replaced with a sign indicating a number for each parking space. The numbers are needed when parkers pay for their spaces.
On Wednesday, Joe Morehouse, deputy director of the DDA, said that the first of 25 units will be shipped on April 1 for deployment in the State Street and Liberty Street area. The 25 units represent an initial phase of assessment, with the idea that as many as 150-175 of these “smart meters” could eventually be installed.
In the first two paragraphs, we’ve described these parking meter replacements as: “kiosks,” “devices,” “units,” and “smart meters.”
But if Angela Pierro of Zero Gravity Designs is successful in the execution of her identity and branding strategy for the roll-out of these advanced parking payment appliances, Chronicle readers will be calling them “E-Park stations.”
Zero Gravity has been hired by the DDA to handle the promotion and public relations for the E-Park stations. Pierro walked the operations committee through the considerations that led to the development of the name and logo. Descriptions like “efficient,” “ease of use,” and “environmentally friendly,” and “innovative” (the E-Park stations are connected wirelessly) played a role in the naming. Important for the logo, Pierro said, was that it should reflect the wireless capability. The E-Park stations’ wireless connectivity not only allows payment with a credit card, but also allows parkers to add money to their payment via cell phone.
Asked by The Chronicle if this would make the feed-the-meter option used by some downtown workers even more attractive, Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, pointed out that the two-hour limit will still be in place.
An additional benefit from the wireless capability of the E-Park stations is that payment can be made at any station, not just at the closest one – which might be in the opposite direction of the parker’s destination.
That is, even if there’s an E-Park station 10 yards to the east of a parking space, if a parker is ultimately headed west, that would represent an extra 20 yards of walking, which could be a lot depending on a parker’s circumstances. No need to traverse that extra 20 yards. There’s also no need to return to the vehicle to put a ticket on the windshield. Ann Arbor’s E-Park stations are not a pay-and-display system.
The logo that Pierro showed the operations committee conveys the wireless aspect of the E-Park stations through concentric semi-circles emanating from the top of the “K” in E-Park.
Roger Hewitt, chair of the operations committee, suggested that the signs indicating the number of the spaces needed to clearly indicate that parkers needed to pay at an E-Park station. And alluding to a preceding intense discussion by the committee on the relationship between the city of Ann Arbor and the DDA (to be reported in a separate Chronicle article), board member John Splitt joked that the signs should say that all monies go directly to the city of Ann Arbor general fund.
Splitt elicited some additional chuckles from his DDA board colleagues when he asked: “What will this [the "E" in E-Park] stand for if it doesn’t go well? Evil?” Board member Russ Collins, in the same spirit, mused, “Take your computer for a walk … to an E-Park.” But board member Leah Gunn, who had to leave a few minutes before the end of the meeting, said in parting: “I like E-Park!”
In response to Pierro’s description of using “ambassadors” (people who would be physically present when the E-Park stations first appear, looking to assist “dazed and confused” parkers and “creating buzz”), Collins seemed a little uncertain. For the ambassadors, Collins said, he was seeing a sash and a hat, but buzz?? Pierro allowed that by “buzz” she meant positive PR. Part of that effort would include online social networking tools like a Facebook page and a blog, as well as more traditional materials like a brochure.
At the mention of brochures, Mark Lyons, general manager of Republic Parking, suggested that they could be handed to drivers by booth attendants at structures and lots. Lyons, newly arrived in town (two weeks), succeeds Tony Bisesi. Lyons is a native Floridian, but he’s lived in Saline, Mich. previously.