Kokua Line: Is parking app required for city meters?

Jan. 22—Question : This parking holiday is a blessing ; I'm saving so much not feeding the meter. Will the city extend it ?

Question : This parking holiday is a blessing ; I'm saving so much not feeding the meter. Will the city extend it ?

Answer : Not by choice. The technical failure has left Oahu's municipal government unable to collect fees on about half of its on-street parking meters. The problem is that outdated digital "smart " meters can no longer accept credit or debit card payments, so nonpayment violations are not being enforced on meters that have a slot for a payment card. However, be aware that the city has nearly as many mechanical parking meters as it does digital ones ; mechanical parking meters accept only coins, with no slot for a payment card. Violations are being enforced as usual at mechanical meters, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

We've heard from many readers on this topic, with some happy to find free street parking in Hono ­lulu's busiest business districts, others outraged that the city let this problem occur—Verizon had warned for years that it would be shutting down its now-defunct 3G wireless network on which the digital meters had relied—and still others annoyed that all parking meters aren't treated the same. When the city publicized the problem about two weeks ago, it said it would take about six months to upgrade the digital meters, and that it's also seeking interim solutions.

We circled back to Honol ­ulu's Department of Transportation Serv ­ices and HPD on Friday for updates :—Starting this week, "Park Smarter " stickers will be placed on digital meters directing motorists to download the parking app on their smartphone, scan a QR code and pay for parking through the app. It will take about two weeks to tag all affected meters. Nonpayment will not be enforced.

"We hope the public does pay, " but parking tickets won't be issued for failing to use the app, Roger Morton, DTS director, said in a telephone interview.—For the long-term solution, the city expedited the bidding process to upgrade Honolulu's on-street parking system. The request for proposals was released Jan. 12 and bids are due Feb. 23. Morton said $2.2 million per year is budgeted for this project, which would first upgrade the digital meters and then convert mechanical meters to digital use. The goal is for all city meters to accept card payments, including credit and debit cards, and, eventually, Holo transit cards, he said.—It's still expected to take about six months before all digital meters are operable and usual enforcement resumes. The city has about 2, 200 digital meters, including in Waikiki, Chinatown, Downtown and other urban areas. About 200 to 300 are working now, because as individual meters broke in recent years, their technology was updated as they were repaired, Morton said. However, nonpayment penalties won't be enforced on any digital meters for now, including the ones that work, he said.—Some parking duration rules are being enforced at digital meters, even though payment rules are not. Applicable tow-away hours are being enforced, said Michelle Yu, HPD spokes ­person. We asked whether other time limits are being enforced but did not receive a response by our deadline.—Rules on payment and parking times are being enforced as usual at the city's 2, 000 coin-only mechanical parking meters, Yu said. These include parking meters in Kakaako, Kapiolani Park, Kaimuki and many other locations, according to a DTS map.—Besides the parking meters, the city has about 4, 000 parking spots in parking structures or monitored parking lots. Those spaces are operating as usual.

About $1 million in parking fees will go unpaid if the digital meters are out of commission for six months. While some readers bemoan the hit to the city's budget, others delighted to find free parking consider it a small price to pay. However, getting back to the reader's question, Morton said that the city's parking policies are less about raising money and more about supporting commerce in business districts where meters predominate.

Meter fees and time limits support merchants by making convenient parking available for a rotating flow of customers, rather than having free curbside spots filled by the same cars all day, he said. Turnover may lag as drivers snag these free-for-now parking spaces.------Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-500, Honolulu, HI 96813 ; call 808-529-4773 ; or email kokualine @staradvertiser.com.------