Downtown parking has been an issue for Great Falls for years. The results of a downtown access and circulation study recommended looking into ways to pay meters electronically. Jana Cooper, with Community Planning & Development, says, "we did some research about replacing meters and that sort of thing, but it seemed to be financially unfeasible".
In March the city started a trial Passport parking program where you can pay the meter the traditional way with coins or your cell phone. Using the program is easy. All you have to do is scan the barcode, download the app, enter your personal information, and go shopping! If you do not have a smart phone, you can also call the number on the parking meter.
A bonus feature, Cooper explains, is that your phone will give you a count down and warning of when your time is up. You can also use you phone to add more time rather than running back out to the meter.
The idea is to make parking downtown more user friendly. Cooper explains not everyone carries change anymore and its just a convenience for people. People may be more inclined to shop downtown, boosting our local economy, if parking is less of a burden.
The trial recently ended and now a decision must be made. Cooper says, "we feel the trial has been a success. There were about 178 transactions and about 100 unique visitors, so what that tells us is that people are using the program and people are coming back and using it again".
However, many people are not taking advantage of this new program. Eldon Stompro, a Great Falls resident, says often he will drive a block further just to park for free. He says having change to pay the meter is not an issue because he always carries change. He says, " I'm not of the cell phone generation. We use our phones just for emergencies and I don't think I would ever use it for this purpose."
However, Stompro still sees the value in the program. He says, "I have 4 sons that have cell phones and live by them". That's why this parking program is the best of both worlds; you have the option between change and technology.
After analyzing the cost of the program versus its benefits, the parking board will make a recommendation to the city commission and the city commission will make a final decision on the future of Passport parking.