By the end of the year, drivers will no longer have to resort to digging in their floorboards for loose change to feed the parking meters in downtown Charleston.
The city expects to install new readers that accept debit, credit and prepaid SmartCards on all 1,700 parking meters on the peninsula over the next few months.
The first 1,100 custom meters are on their way to Charleston, and Transportation Director Keith Benjamin thinks the Traffic and Transportation Department can begin installing them in mid-September.
The other 600 will be sent from the manufacturer in a later shipment, he said, but the replacement project should be wrapped up by the end of the year.
"I’m not trying to go out into 2018 with this still on the table," he said.
The city launched a pilot program last year to test the modernized meters on Broad Street between King and East Bay streets. Benjamin said the city will replace the rest of the meters in that area first, then proceed north toward Calhoun Street.
Most of the city's aging meters only accept nickels, dimes and quarters. Some accept SmartCards, which can be purchased at the parking office at 180 Lockwood Blvd.
At a rate of $1 per hour, the metered spaces offer some of the cheapest parking on the peninsula. Benjamin said the price isn't going up with the new meters, initially, but it could once the city completes its comprehensive parking study next year.
The city hasn't updated its parking infrastructure study since 1999.
National mobility expert Gabe Klein was hired in 2014 to assess the transportation needs in Charleston. In his final report, he recommended updating the parking meters and raising the rates to encourage and fund alternative modes of transportation.
"Inexpensive parking sends a clear message to the public and visitors to 'drive your car,'" he said in the report. "To be honest, even taking it to $2 is not likely going to discourage parking, but it will bring in more revenue to the coffers to fund projects."
Metered parking generated $1.4 million in city revenue in 2016. The project to replace the meters, funded over three years, cost about $1 million.
A recent survey conducted by the College of Charleston found that 60 percent of hospitality workers on the peninsula live in other areas, and 80 percent drive to work and often have to pay to park near their jobs.
About a third of those surveyed said they pay more than $100 a month on parking.
That's another issue the upcoming parking study is designed to address, according to Josh Martin, an adviser to Mayor John Tecklenburg.