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Anyone who’s ever stood in a downpour on Seattle streets waiting, and waiting, for an automated parking meter to spit out a ticket may welcome the news that the city plans to replace all the old pay stations over the next two years.

The current parking meters work on cellular technology and, like old cellphones, they drop calls, sometimes search unsuccessfully for a connection, and seem to take forever to authorize debit cards and complete transactions.

The new technology will offer a higher level of reliability, enhanced screen displays and the ability to accommodate the city’s complex scheme of rates and time limits, said Mike Estey, manager of parking programs for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

But replacing the city’s 2,200 meters will cost $25 million. And some are only 4 years old.

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Seattle City Council members put a proviso on the department’s 2014 budget request for the new meters to ensure that new models would be tested and a case made for replacement before the money could be spent, said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the Transportation Committee.

“It’s a huge amount of money,” he said, but noted that the city has a long list of required features that the new machines would have to offer. “They have to be user-friendly. They have to be able to withstand vandalism and abuse. And they have to provide us data to help us manage on-street parking and ensure that there’s always some turnover.”

Rasmussen said it might be possible to swap out the brains on the current pay stations rather than replacing them all, but that may not be cheaper than buying all new machines. The city now uses two different models of meters.

“We could be nickel-and-dimed if we’re constantly having to repair them,” Rasmussen said.

The oldest machines were installed in 2004, but the newest weren’t put in until 2010. And the replacement meters may last only seven years, Estey said.

“They could certainly last longer, but we wanted to be realistic in our budgeting as technology seems to be evolving rapidly,” Estey said in an email.

The city paid $19 million for the two current types of meters. There are 1,500 of the Stelio models (the taller green plastic ones) and 700 of the newer Strada models (the shorter black metallic ones).

The city is now conducting a trial of seven new models of pay stations from four vendors. The new meters are along Fourth Avenue between Stewart and Bell streets downtown.

The public is asked to provide feedback to the city about the ease of use and speed of the different models in an online survey at

Lynn Thompson: or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes

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