Edmonton’s EPark meters endure rocky rollout

Click to play video 'City’s EPark system endures bumpy rollout' City’s EPark system endures bumpy rollout
WATCH ABOVE: It was supposed to make it easier for Edmonton drivers to pay for parking, but the new EPark system hasn’t been without its problems. Vinesh Pratap reports.

EDMONTON- Edmonton’s new EPark system is meant to streamline paid parking for both citizens and the city, but instead, reports of system problems have been streaming in ever since it was rolled out in the fall.

EPark was billed as a convenient change in how Edmontonians can pay for parking. Drivers can now pay via credit card or with their cellphones by downloading an app.

But the EPark metres have been maligned by many drivers on social media: everything from displays being difficult to read because of insufficient lighting, to accessibility issues for people in wheelchairs. Some drivers also complain the displays time out too quickly, before they can type in a parking code and a licence plate number. But despite some bumps in the road, city officials are quite happy with the early stages of the transition.

“The rollout’s gone very smooth for us,” said James Donahue, the city’s parking project manager. “It was a major change for the city of Edmonton to finally address the use of coin meters and having to carry your coins downtown and we noticed right away a positive uptake with citizens in using their credit cards to pay for parking.”

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According to the city, 311 dispatchers are currently receiving about 40 calls per week that range from people asking for help, reporting problems, or offering suggestions. The city said the numbers have been declining and notes that it currently handles about 20,000 EPark transactions per week.

Donahue said the shift in practice has been dramatic; prior to October, 100 per cent of payment method was coins and now 70 per cent is via credit. Donahue concedes parts of the rollout haven’t been as smooth as he would have liked. For example, the app only became fully functional in mid-December and a website used to set it up in the meantime had issues.

READ MORE: EPark system launched, set to change parking in Edmonton

Some of the EPark machines are proving to be problematic for people in wheelchairs who are trying to use them outside the building that houses Spinal Cord Injury Alberta. The machine has been temporarily installed on concrete blocks and is quite high off the ground.

Ross Norton, the community development coordinator with Spinal Cord Injury Alberta, was with his co-worker Zachary Weeks when the two noticed the placement could pose a problem.

“They were on a concrete pad, they were at the back of the parking pad. There was no way that Zach or I were going to get close to that parking machine,” he said. “They are quite high.”

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Norton said he sent an email to the accessibility advisory committee to have the issue rectified. Donahue said the issue was that the weather was too cold to pour cement when that particular meter was installed, so the concrete pads were built but the city was unable to dig them in or lower them. He said the 17 affected meters, including the one Norton referred to, will be dropped in the spring.

While it’s been an unseasonable warm start to winter in Alberta’s capital, the cooler temperatures are also causing issues with the new meters as it causes the digits on displays to take longer to register when drivers are typing information in.

Donahue said the machines themselves were selected because they were best-suited to handle the cold weather and that while the displays may be slower in the winter, the machines themselves operate just as well as in warmer seasons. EPark’s LCD display panel is not as bright as colour, but was picked because it conserves power.

Some of the issues first surfaced on New Year’s Eve when a machine programming error occurred during the rollover into 2016. A number of machines froze as a result and were unable to accept payment. The city waived fees while the issue was being addressed but the exact cause of the system failure remains unknown. A spokesperson with the City of Edmonton’s Transportation Services said the city is working with the pay machine provider to ensure the issue does not occur again.

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-with files from Vinesh Pratap