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Parking Meter Company Responds To City Criticism

While city officials recently reported that parking meter issues downtown are due to POM Parking Meters failing to provide replacement batteries, the company claims the city has yet to issue a complaint or purchase replacement batteries. Pictured is one of the smart parking meters that was installed in 2021. P-J file photo

The president of POM Parking Meters claims the city has not ordered any replacement batteries or submitted any complaints regarding issues with parking meters.

Seth Ward, president of POM Parking Meters, told The Post-Journal that contrary to the report Mayor Eddie Sundquist and Jeff Lehman, Public Works director, shared at the latest City Council work session, the city has not reached out to the company.

Last week, Sundquist told the City Council that the city is currently facing an issue with its new parking meters downtown due to a problem with the solar charging of the parking meter batteries during the course of the winter.

“We are awaiting updated meter components and batteries for a good chunk of our meters,” he said. “They did not survive the winter, which was a huge issue.”

Sundquist told City Council members that his administration had been involved in “lots of discussions” and “lots of angry phone calls” with the parking meter service providers and that the city was “working” to fix issues with downtown parking meters. Lehman said the process of acquiring replacement batteries for the parking meters had already taken the city “more than two months.”

Despite Sundquist and Lehman’s report on downtown parking meters, Ward claims the company has yet to receive a complaint from the city regarding parking meter issues or an order for replacement batteries.

“Like all our customers, Jamestown has our toll-free telephone number, email addresses, and my personal cell phone number. If they called me on it right now, I’d pick it up, but they haven’t called,” he said. “Jamestown has not ordered any batteries for its parking meters or made any complaints to POM about the meters’ solar charging systems not working in the winter or about any meter not being able to ‘handle’ a coin payment because of the way anything is ‘shaped.'”

As a small family-owned business in Russellville, Arkansas, Ward said POM Parking Meters is “very proud” of its heritage as being founded by the man who first invented parking meters in 1935. Ward said the company’s parking meters are still produced in the United States. He said the company takes pride in its operations, particularly in its customer service.

Ward told The Post-Journal that the company’s parking meters use two different batteries. One battery is rechargeable and is powered by “solar cells” on the back of the parking meter. If the rechargeable battery has enough charge, the parking meter is able to operate off of the solar battery. If the rechargeable battery does not have enough power, the meter is equipped with a backup battery.

“The meter never runs directly off the solar cells,” Ward said. “They are just there to keep the battery charged up. The meters each contain a microchip dedicated to solar management. The microchip analyzes capacity and load and then decides whether to run the meter off the rechargeable battery or the backup battery.”

According to Ward, every parking meter has “charge” and “discharge” cycles, regardless of the region’s weather conditions.

Ward claims that the “real issue” with Jamestown’s parking meters is that the city has not ordered replacement batteries.

While the company’s parking meters can “sometimes” run off the rechargeable battery and charge at the same time, Ward said the parking meter cannot always do both if there is not enough sunlight. As a result, each parking meter is equipped with a backup battery.

“When we sold the meters in March 2021, we told Jamestown the backup batteries would last about two years,” he said. “It’s been two years, and no replacement backup batteries have been ordered. We have plenty in stock; should Jamestown choose to place an order, we can have them there tomorrow. They have my number.”

Ward said Lehman’s statements regarding POM being the only place to purchase replacement batteries for the parking meters is “correct.” He added that the city knew this information prior to purchasing the company’s parking meters in 2021.

“We have the batteries custom made both in terms of shape and chemistry so we can fit as much energy as possible into something oddly shaped like a parking meter housing,” he said. “We are not unique in this regard. I know of no connected parking meter that uses off-the-shelf batteries.”

Ward also addressed Sundquist’s comments last week regarding certain downtown parking meters not being able to “handle” coin payment due to the shape of the parking meters. During last week’s work session, Sundquist told the City Council that the city had “retrofitted” some of the parking meters in Jamestown to just use coin payment; however, he said the city was not able to retrofit all of the parking meters.

“I am sure we’ve never received that type of complaint from the mayor or anyone else at Jamestown,” Ward said. “I am also sure your meters use the same electronic coin chute we designed in the 1990s and that has worked successfully in the hundreds of thousands of parking meters we’ve produced and sold since that time.”

Ward also explained that the parking meter coin chutes require electricity to operate and that parking meters will not be able to accept coins if the parking meter battery is dead.

While Ward acknowledged that the city’s “immediate need” is to replace the parking meter batteries, he said the city’s longer-term need is to have staff “capable” of running Jamestown’s parking meter system.

“Right now, there is only one person to maintain and collect from all the meters,” he said.

Ward said the company’s parking meters are equipped with the ability to send text messages and email alerts for issues such as low batteries and coin jams; however, the program requires the person responsible for overseeing the city’s parking meter program to use a smartphone. Ward claims the person overseeing Jamestown’s program currently does not have a smartphone to operate this system.

“You have a government that insists on paid parking but refuses to take even minimal steps to keep its parking meters operational,” he said. “The meters are state of the art. In addition to accepting coins and credit cards, they are also capable of showing time purchased through Passport. We’ve offered this service for free, but the city hasn’t called Passport to authorize the integration. Not everyone wants the ‘convenience’ of paying with a mobile app. The reality is that there are multiple other ways to pay, but your city officials do not appear willing to make it easy for you to use them.”

Sundquist told The Post-Journal the CEO of POM Parking Meters has “reached out” in an attempt to “resolve” the issues raised by the city. He added that the city is “working diligently” with Ward.

According to Sundquist, there has been “miscommunication” between the city, POM, the vendor responsible for inside sales and the vendor responsible for doing inside sales.

“We have set up a meeting to try to get things resolved,” he said. “There needs to be a reset in this relationship.”

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