Cincinnati moves on from failed parking kiosk experiment

Court Street Parking Kiosk - Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Approximately one decade ago, then City Manager John Shirey engaged in a real-world experiment with the way people use parking meters. The idea was that consolidated solar-powered parking kiosks could make the process more cost effective and beneficial for users and business owners. The reality, however, has been different.

The first kiosks made their way onto Third Street in downtown Cincinnati. Those two, $8,000-a-piece, kiosks were then followed by an additional ten kiosks on Court Street and Third Street. Early on it was touted that the maintenance costs would be less for these kiosks as opposed to the many individual parking meters they replaced. What seemed to spell the end of these kiosks, however, may have been the lack of maintenance they received.

Almost from the first year they were installed, users complained of problems with pay-and-display parking kiosks. Money would jam, credit card readers did not work, or the whole kiosk was for some reason malfunctioning.

These early and ongoing problems eliminated the possibility for users to see any potential benefit from the new form of paying for on-street parking. The early problems also eliminated virtually any and all possibility of the system growing into what was envisioned for it.

Originally, city leaders discussed the idea of allowing downtown visitors to purchase monthly parking passes for the pay-and-display kiosks. They also mentioned the idea of allowing a user on Court Street to take their extra time and use it somewhere else downtown without having to pay a second time. Both ideas were well intentioned, but both ideas never happened.

Maintenance issues aside, individuals around the country have complained about the lack of an individual parking meter at their space. The personal relationship between a person, their car, and their assigned meter is obviously stronger than what city officials thought.

The city appears to now have abandoned this experiment gone wrong. The pay-and-display parking kiosks on Court Street have been shut off and replaced by new individual electronic parking meters that are solar powered. Those meters are part of a larger $1.7 million effort to replace all 1,400 parking meters downtown with the new technology.

In cities where space on the sidewalk is a big concern, the initiative to reduce street furniture like parking meters should continue to remain a priority. In Cincinnati, however, most streets do not suffer from this severe lack of space, and therefore it is probably a better approach to use individual parking meters with these technological upgrades rather than completely overhauling the system.

While the parking kiosks originally envisioned by City Manager Shirey did not pan out, he should be commended for his leadership, because without that Cincinnati may not be where it is now in terms of upgraded the rest of its on-street parking payment technologies.

City officials should continue to explore creative options for its parking assets. In 2010 UrbanCincy estimated that a public-private parking partnership could result in an additional $3.06 million in revenues annually. The possibilities of leveraging these assets are intriguing, and nothing should be left off the discussion table during this time of limited resources.

  • Anonymous

    In Washington, DC they offer the ability to pay the meter by phone. A company called Park Mobile ( runs the program. In DC there is a transaction fee of $0.32 per transaction.

    Depending on the city (or parking lot owner) you can simply start the meter when you arrive and stop it when you leave and it will charge you the correct rate. Other places may set limits to the time you can stay at a single meter.

    Parking enforcement has a special device that shows the license plate number of the person parked at each meter so there is no need for a paper receipt in the window (though you can log on the internet and print receipts). Also, you can create an account online and simply call a number to start the meter; you dont need the smartphone app. Also, the service can automatically text you when your meter is about to expire.

    I’m not sure Cincinnati would be well suited for this kind of investment since they just upgraded (or are in the process of upgrading) all of the meters. It could be possible for Newport though since they have meters in service until at least midnight and most people dont want to leave the bar to feed a meter or bring a whole roll of quarters to insert at once. (correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Newport meters allow a ridiculous 10 hour maximum at meters).

    Or perhaps the two cities could leverage their power together to get a better rate on the service (assuming it wouldn’t be a logistical/political nightmare; which it would).

    • Lots of innovative solutions here…thanks for sharing. Although I do doubt that Cincinnati will do anything more given they are in the process of transitioning their existing meters, and presumably already have a contract in place for that.

  • It certainly seems like this was a step in the right direction. I’m a little put off though by your emphasis on customer complaints. I think anyone who works with the public would tell you that anything people haven’t been doing the same way for 30 years they’re liable to complain about. I think they call that conservatism 😉

  • The kiosks that were recently installed in Chicago are very user friendly and I believe they will soon have an ap that allows you to find empty parking spaces. I think the City’s intentions were good, but the product and location they selected was wrong.