Widespread vandalism brings 'pay-by-plate' parking forward



Town centre shoppers can finally say goodbye to loose change in their car ashtray as Blenheim parking meters are set to go paperless.


The new parking meters will be installed around Blenheim in May as the town moves towards a 'pay-by-plate' system, where customers enter their licence plate number when paying instead of receiving a paper ticket.


Plans kicked off last year after the Marlborough District Council found old age and "a large amount of vandalism" had pushed the current meters to near breaking point.


Council project and contract manager Robyn Searle said 179 'Duncan' parking meters around town would be replaced by 24 pay-by-plate terminals, or one terminal per seven parks.


Searle said while this could mean some parking spaces had oddly spaced or far off terminals, it also meant motorists would not need to return to their car.


"The logic is that you walk in the direction of where you're going to do your shopping, and you pay at the first terminal," she said.


"All of these terminals are in the same payment zone and [share the same] hourly rate of town, so you can pay at any terminal."


The new terminals would take coin and card payments, but not notes, as these made the meters "more of a target for vandalism", Searle said.


Once a payment was made, motorists could move and park their car in different areas of the zone, as the credit still applied, she said.


Searle presented the proposals as part of a report to the council at an assets and services committee meeting last week.


Councillor Gerald Hope said he supported the new pay-by-plate system as it would help "de-clutter" the town centre of its old parking meters.


Blenheim had been served by 'Duncan', or lollipop, meters since the 1980s, and these were nearing their end, the report said. 


The council sent two officers, one from council and one from Marlborough Roads, on an overnight expedition in July last year to other towns with a high proportion of seniors, in the hopes of pilfering their parking ideas.


The council agreed to run a staged roll-out of pay-by-plate terminals in Blenheim, starting with Market, Queen and Scott streets, and the Maxwell Rd block from Harvey Norman to Market St.


This area had been expanded to include off-street car parks on Arthur, Charles and George streets, to prevent confusion over multiple parking systems.


Street furniture such as seats, bins, bollards and bike stands would also be refitted at the same time to suit a new "furniture pallet" in the town centre, alongside new light poles.


The council would also convert a loading zone on Queen Street into two 120-minute parking spaces, two 10-minute parks outside First National into two 120-minute parks, and several parks on High St and Charles St into loading zones.


The estimated cost of installing new ticketless meters, including the removal of old meters, reinstating the pavement and software to drive the system, was $320,000.


Signs were required at each entrance to a pay-by-plate zone, and this was being planned by Marlborough Roads, the report said.


The project would go to tender in March, with work expected to start in May after the busier holiday period.


Council staff would meet with seniors groups over the coming months to introduce the new system and provide practical demonstrations of its use, the report said.


Once the terminals were installed, the council would work towards replacing the final 150 'Duncan' meters around town with the new pay-by-plate system.


The pay-by-plate project had been in the pipeline for the past few years, but vandalism on the meters made the update a priority, Searle said.


Last month, a man used a screwdriver to pry open a parking meter, collecting $14 in coins, before being caught working on another meter by police.


Council property and community facilities manager Jamie Lyall said about 150 meters had been vandalised in the last 12 months, despite multiple arrests.


"There's a lot of areas that don't have CCTV footage, so it's very hard to track down perpetrators. And apart from costing us money, it's damaging the equipment, [which] we're out of supplies at the moment," he said.


"It's getting to the point where it's just frustrating. Hopefully, these new systems will stop that."


The committee approved the report and referred it onto the next full council meeting on February 13 for adoption.