A city finds its downtown “free parking” situation is out of control when cars are frequently parked way beyond posted time limits, enforcement is spotty due to overworked parking personnel and irate business owners protest complain about lack of parking space turnover. When complaints pile up along with loss of revenue due to the inefficiencies of free parking, the city will consider the implementation of paid parking meters to address the problems.

Not surprisingly, the public offers plenty of resistance to this proposal. Citizens only see an added fee. The less visible, but perhaps more problematic issues of parking management are ignored by the public. But these issues cannot be ignored by city managers.

This is the situation Oxford, Mississippi faced in 2012.

Oxford is a small but growing town of 25,000 in Northern Mississippi. Increased tourism and an expanding university population transformed its historic downtown area, called “The Square,” into a booming center of commerce with free parking for all. Unfortunately, the area was not built for the increased activity, and the parking situation soon got out of hand. Parking space was limited and regulations were difficult to enforce by the city’s small, three-person enforcement team. Cars remained in premium parking spaces long after legal time limits, which discouraged new customers from visiting the area. Businesses suffered, and revenues to the city were far less than the cost of parking enforcement.

The city had to do something. After a long study, the city decided to implement a paid parking solution with smart technology and a green footprint. After an extensive search, the contract was awarded to IPS Group.

The result: the smart solution worked beautifully, benefitting multiple stakeholders.

One of the first problems faced by IPS was placement of parking meters. Oxford’s sidewalks in the area of The Square are composed of historic, but fragile tile. City managers required the tile be affected as little as possible. IPS installed solar-powered Smart Meters with wireless technology. These meters don’t require electrical cables, transformers, and a central power supply. Therefore, all that was needed was a small hole in the tile for the parking meter post. IPS even constructed a jig to make more precise cuts, further minimizing the amount of sidewalk tile affected by the post installation. Then, with Smart Parking Meters installed, Oxford could apply technology to solve parking problems. The main focus points? Availability of parking, data management for parking planning purposes, and the balance of revenues vs. enforcement costs.

Smart technology enables cities to monitor the parking profile of impacted areas and adjust parking rates accordingly. It also allows for limits on parking duration, which encourages owners to move their vehicles after a reasonable time or consider parking in a less impacted area. In Oxford, after installation of the IPS Smart Meters, the area around The Square saw a much higher parking space turnover because vehicle owners were less inclined to monopolize premium spaces for long periods of time. This resulted in more available spaces and more new customers for businesses.

The business owners were gratified. The city had overcome a chronic hindrance to the area’s growth.

“IPS meters are without a doubt the best thing that we’ve done for parking in the last twenty years,” says Joey East, the Oxford Police Department Chief. “Because meters are user friendly and clearly indicate remaining time, patrons tend to self-monitor their own parking, feeding meters before they expire and moving vehicles once the time limit is reached.”

The wireless aspect of smart meters, coupled with the IPS Data Management System, helps with both real-time management of parking spaces and long-term planning for future parking solutions. With the system, Oxford is able to better manage citations, check revenue, analyze usage data, monitor parking trends, and test simulated parking scenarios. The adjustment of parking rates and expiration times is easily accomplished, so evolving parking trends can be instantly addressed to achieve the best outcome.

As Matt Davis, Oxford’s Director of Parking says, “The management system itself is great. It helps us function as a small department in a more effective way. It would be nice if we had more people, but because we’re limited, the management system helps us keep an eye on things.”

As for revenue, Oxford couldn’t be happier with their choice of IPS Smart Meters. Before installing IPS meters, parking operations lost an average of $20,000 per month. During the eight months following meter installation, parking revenues exceeded $500,000, well over projections. The additional income allows the city to plan more parking solutions to accommodate future growth, including multi-space, pay-to-park structures, mobile payment capability, and data-gathering sensors. Instead of the parking situation being an inhibitor of growth, it is now an accelerator.

But what about public response? IPS meters have been accepted and even welcomed by the public because there is now a place to park when visiting The Square. The ease of using smart meters – featuring highly visible time indicators, credit/debit card acceptance, mobile phone payment capability, and above all, availability of parking – made the transition to paid parking easy to embrace.

“I feel like we’ve tried just about everything in the world,” says Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson. “The simplicity of these meters has been remarkably effective – and well accepted…I didn’t realize just how well it was going to be accepted.”

IPS offers a full parking solution, including multi-space pay stations, pay station retrofit kits, vehicle detection sensors, smart cash collection, and a state-of-the-art web-based data management system. Learn more about our unique solutions at ipsgroupinc.com.