(Jan. 25, 2013) Much to the likely chagrin of environmentalists and “Jetsons” fans everywhere, the city has decided against including charging stations for electric cars in the newest upgrade of the inlet parking lot, but is still holding out that such amenities could be offered elsewhere in the resort in the future.
“I’m really wondering whether we’re way ahead of ourselves here,” said Mayor Rick Meehan about the option to install the stations, which was part of the bid for work on the lot’s toll system that was approved this week.
“I’m not so sure that it’s the time to do that, or that that’s something that private enterprise won’t do.”
The city updates its control system at the inlet lot every five to eight years, according to City Engineer Terry McGean. The primary improvement scheduled for this year, McGean said, will be to install automated payment machines in each exit lane. Currently, only one lane has such a system installed. The new kiosks will still allow for a booth attendant, but will be able to be used by those patrons with credit cards, even if a human operator is not present.
The cost of the project will be around $435,000, including the $399,260.91 bid from CTR Systems for the equipment as well as previous consulting fees and infrastructure costs.
The charging stations would occupy four spaces, likely those on the southwest corner of the lot, nearest the entrance and exit area, McGean said. While these are probably the least desirable spaces in the lot for visitors, every space in the massive parking area is at a premium on a sunny summer weekend. The benefit of the charging stations would thus have to be weighed against the loss of four parking spots.
Council Secretary Mary Knight asked if the city would charge a fee to use the stations, potentially recouping some loss.
“Some places say ‘it’s a service that we offer,’ others have you pay. That would be up to the mayor and council,” McGean said. “But the system we would put in, you would have the ability to charge if you wanted.”
“I don’t feel the need to subsidize users,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “We don’t provide free gas at the inlet lot.”
But while council members seemed to find some value in the stations, it was not enough to sacrifice inlet parking spaces that are worth their surface area in gold.
“There may be some other spaces where we could do this that aren’t as valuable as those in the inlet lot,” Meehan suggested.
Dare pointed out that the city will soon be improving the new municipal lot at Fourth Street and Philadelphia Avenue, which was recently created after a derelict building was torn down.
“For the day-trippers who do drive electric cars, we may not need one today, but we may need one in the future,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic.
He moved to take the stations out of the inlet specification and revisit their installation somewhere else for the next fiscal year, to be discussed this spring.
What will be included in this year’s improvement, however, is a “roving cashier” system that would allow the city to switch the payment flow at the lot, so that patrons would pay a flat fee on entrance and leave without stopping to pay for their time. This would be useful for special events, McGean explained, as it would speed up exit congestion once the events end.
“We’re trying to come up with a way to deal with the mass exodus problem,” McGean said. “[With the roving cashier program], you’d pay a fixed fee upon entering. For example, people come in gradually during the day over Fourth of July, but they all leave at one time.”
The roving cashier adds another $4,995 to the project, but the council seemed to agree with Meehan when he submitted that “the roving cashier system is clearly more important than the charging stations.”
McGean also cautioned that the improvements may not be fully operational in all lanes until May, creating a potential loss of revenue for the city if a spring crowd forces the city to open the overflow exit.
“We believe we can run sufficiently probably 90 percent of the time [while the improvements are being done],” McGean said.