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COLUMN: Midland parking frustrations not limited to meter equipment

Writer says 'cumbersome' parking app charges 22-cent hidden convenience fee every use; urges council to make lemonade out of 'this business prevention atrocity'
2021-09-23 ap_134738
Parking metres like this one are now found throughout Midland's downtown core.

After hearing of the frustrations early users had with our new parking equipment, I decided to set up the recommended Parkedin app on my phone and get an account on the system.

I thought it would make things easy and save me from using the parking consoles. For the record, I have no issue with paying a small amount to park downtown to support our merchants and the town's finances.

Having been involved with technology most of my life and having used parking apps before, I figured this would be a cinch... I was wrong.

The phone app is just as cumbersome as the machines.

First, the account profile you set up only remembers the user's names and addresses, nothing about payment method or vehicle plate(s).

Second, credit card and licence plate information must be entered each and every time you park, even for the short free parking!

Finally, adding insult to injury, the phone app also inserts a “convenience fee,” which is not disclosed until you reach the end of the multi-step transaction.

I am not sure of the legality of this $0.22 convenience fee not being disclosed as part of the published pricing. The amount is insignificant, but the fact that it is snuck in there remains questionable. It should at least be clearly disclosed at the beginning of the process.

Since the convenience fee is applied even for free parking periods, there truly is no free parking when using this app and certainly no ‘convenience,’ to say so is misleading.

After using the app three times and despite my desire to support local merchants, I am sorry to say that I now avoid the parking system entirely.

I only stop downtown after 5pm on weekdays or on weekends. A quick dash to a store, bank or service provider is no longer simple if one wants to park legally by paying for it. The $35 fine for not paying is also a strong incentive to park lawfully.

Our daughter, visiting from Kelowna, tells me that the parking app that she uses works comparatively better.

It remembers payment details and determines her location automatically, so while walking away from her car she only has to confirm her vehicle plate (from plates that the app remembers) and select the parking duration that she needs.

The app used in Midland needs major functionality upgrades to become practical.

As for the parking meter consoles, my wife went for lunch with our daughter earlier this week and both returned home frustrated again with their parking experience at the waterfront.

Only two people stood ahead of them at the parking meter, but it still took them over 10 minutes to pay as everyone struggled to read the console's screen. Had it been raining or snowing, I am sure they would all have gone elsewhere.

At a minimum, the metering equipment needs to be upgraded with screens that can easily be read in broad daylight (when paid parking is in effect).

My wife had already given-up earlier on the phone app and currently resorts to paying with coins at the machines, which seems to be the easiest payment method.

And I thought that we were trying to get away from handling coins! I personally do not carry coins, so like many others, I am no further ahead.

The issues that our family has experienced coupled with those reported by others go beyond what user training and education efforts can address.

Whether Councillor Bill Gordon's approach at the recent council meeting was appropriate or not, he was right in my opinion to recommend pausing the use of this system (equipment and app) until its flaws are fixed.

The moratorium he now proposes for the holiday season would be a nice and timely gesture, but it will not suffice in itself as the system's fundamental functionality flaws must still be permanently fixed.

For our council and CAO to ignore the economic harm being done to our local merchants (especially as we head into the holiday season coming out of COVID’s economic slowdown), to dismiss user pushback as resistance to change, and to characterize the issues raised as normal rollout teething problems, is blindly denying that Midland is currently stuck with a (hopefully fixable) lemon.

It is certainly not a state-of-the-art new technology as it was earlier portrayed to be. Being dealt a lemon, our council should quickly pivot and learn to make lemonade.

In my opinion, the issue has nothing to do with the money being levied for parking.

It is with the difficult-to-use paying process itself that keeps people away from our downtown, plain and simple. Blaming users instead of the system is not what we should expect from our elected “representatives of the people.”

The longer council imposes this business prevention atrocity on our town, the more economic harm is done and resentment generated. I sure hope that common sense will soon prevail, but we have yet to see it from this council as a whole.

Germain Proulx lives in Midland.