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Rogue Community College student Claudia Eckert, 17, approaches the newly installed solar-powered pay machine in the parking lot across from the college.

Parking blues

Merchants and students scowled at new pay machines that went live in downtown Medford parking lots on Monday.

"We actually really hate this," said Michelle Miller, a 51-year-old Medford woman who manages Euphoria Salon on Central Avenue. "It's been really bad for business."

The thin, blue machines, which cost about $10,000 each, opened for business Monday at four downtown lots. Machines at the two parking garages will begin operating in the next few days.

Previously, only the two garages and one parking lot on Central Avenue across from the library required payments. Those machines have been replaced with the new equipment.

Miller said she's going to work with other businesses to file a complaint with the city about the new parking fees at the lot located on Central Avenue across from Rogue Community College. She said she noticed a decline in business since the city started reducing the amount of time visitors could stay in parking lots. For instance, the parking lot behind the library went from a two-hour time limit to one hour.

The machines look tiny, but the technology packed inside makes it easier for people to obtain parking passes. Also, the machines communicate with the parking attendants, notifying them that a vehicle has passed its time limit in the lot.

You'll need to remember your license plate number to use the new machines. Determine how long you're going to park, type in the license plate number and insert a credit card or change.

Because your license plate has been recorded, you don't need to place the receipt in your car.

Lynette O'Neal, assistant to Medford's deputy city manager, said the revenue generated by the machines will help pay for the equipment and help offset the cost to maintain the parking lots and garages.

"We're hoping to break even by the end of June," she said.

The machines only accept change or credit cards, but not dollar bills.

Rates are 50 cents an hour for each of the first two hours, then $1 an hour thereafter.

Both the Middleford and Evergreen parking garages are free for the first three hours.

Daily rates are $4 in the garages and $5 in parking lots on Bartlett Street, behind the library, on Central Avenue across from the library and on Central across from Rogue Community College.

During a two-week period, the city will issue warnings, not tickets, for those who neglect to pay the parking fees.

O'Neal, who was on hand Monday to explain how to use the machine at the lot across from RCC on Central Avenue, said the city explored installing equipment that could accept bills, but decided against it because they aren't as reliable in Medford's weather extremes.

Within the next month, the machines will be capable of accepting payments through smartphones. The machines will send a text to a motorist when the time limit is coming up, offering the option to add more time.

A merchant validation that can be accessed by phone will be another option.

At Euphoria Salon, the merchant validation will help, but the lack of free parking across the street is worrisome for Miller and her daughter, Harmony, who started the business four months ago.

"I friggin' hate it," Harmony Miller said. Both mother and daughter expressed confusion as to why the city would start charging for parking when the local economy is hurting.

Students appeared to be the biggest users of the parking lot.

Claudia Eckert, a 17-year-old Ashland resident, said it was too bad students had to pay for parking, but she understood the city's reasons.

"It makes sense," she said. "It would happen eventually."

Students who go to Southern Oregon University already pay for campus parking lots.

Josh Haggans, a 38-year-old counselor at RCC, said that when he was involved in student government almost two years ago, he helped fight against the idea of charging to park in the lot across from the school.

"We're going to pay to go to school, and we're going to pay to park to go to school," he said.

Brandi Rodriguez, a 26-year-old Medford student at Rogue Community College, said it was ridiculous to force students to pay for parking.

Rodriguez said Monday was the first day she ever paid to park, noting she'd never received a ticket before.

"I hope the White City campus doesn't start implementing this," Rodriguez said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

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