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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Robin Hutcheson, Salt Lake City transportation director, right, and Jason Mathis of the Downtown Alliance discuss survey results of the public's perception of parking in downtown Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.
The (blue meters) took some getting used to, admittedly. The reason we did those meters is we've got to keep up with technology. More and more we're hearing from people that they want to be able to use their credit cards and their smartphones. —Salt Lake City Transportation Director Robin Hutcheson

SALT LAKE CITY — Changes to the Salt Lake City parking system haven't been easy, but a new study reveals they're not keeping people from visiting downtown.

The telephone survey commissioned by the Downtown Alliance reached 406 Salt Lake and Davis county residents, 91 percent of whom said they've parked downtown in the past year. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Only two respondents said parking kept them away, citing long walking distances, parking access and distaste for paid parking.

Those who came to Salt Lake City but didn't park reported using TRAX, buses or carpools, citing preferences for public transit, frustration finding parking, carpooling to save gas or money, or not owning a car.

Thirty-eight percent of people said the biggest problem with downtown parking was there's not enough of it. The next highest response was traffic congestion, according to 9 percent of respondents.

As many as 300 people surveyed said they took advantage of off-street paid parking, like the large garages at City Creek Center and The Gateway.

"This was a surprise to me. I thought a lot of people came downtown and drove around the block looking for parking spaces," said Jason Mathis, the Downtown Alliance's executive director. "It turns out the vast majority of people actually prefer to park in garages."

Many of those drivers were headed to Utah Jazz games or other events, Mathis said.

Salt Lake City Transportation Director Robin Hutcheson called City Creek Center one of the biggest changes downtown has ever seen, and the survey indicated 63 percent of people who came downtown in the past year have parked at the shopping center, where they enjoy one free hour and just $1 an hour after that.

The Gateway, which has a similar rate and free parking on Sundays, topped City Creek City by 2 percent.

A little more than half of respondents reported they had used metered street parking, which cost the city $4.6 million and will take an estimated seven years to pay off.

Changes over the past 18 months have included the adoption of the blue, solar-powered parking meters that provide credit and debit options to pay the $2-per-hour rate, as well as a two-hour extension of parking enforcement.

"The (blue meters) took some getting used to, admittedly," Hutcheson said. "The reason we did those meters is we've got to keep up with technology. More and more we're hearing from people that they want to be able to use their credit cards and their smartphones."

Charging for parking up until 8 p.m. and increasing the price put the city's rate at the same level as similarly sized areas, Hutcheson said.

Seventy percent of people said the blue meters were easy to use, while 18 percent said they found it difficult.

When asked what made using the parking meters easy, 39 percent of people talked about paying by credit card, giving responses such as, "I just put in the card, it read it, and it was easy."

Other positives for the new meter system included simplicity, clear instructions, well-marked parking spaces and easy-to-locate meters.

Hutcheson said all of the meters are running well after several went offline in July's intense heat, leaving downtown parking free for almost two weeks.

The survey also uncovered one gaping awareness issue: Hardly anyone is using their cellphone to pay for parking.

Only 18 people out of more than 400 said they pay for parking with the Quick Pay parking app, which boasts the ability to save the user's credit card information and simply scan a QR code at the parking stall in order to pay. The app also provides a digital receipt, sends a reminder text when parking is about to expire, and allows drivers to add more time until the two-hour limit.

"This is frankly disappointing. We need to do a better job of making sure people know about the Quick Pay application and are able to use the Quick Pay application," Mathis said. "This is a really great benefit to this system."

Informing people about the Quick Pay app has become a priority for the team as they spend the rest of the budget, Mathis said. Other goals include putting up consistent signs and letting people know they don't have to display their meter receipts on their dashboards.

The $10,000 survey was funded from $100,000 the Salt Lake City Council allocated last year for a parking education campaign. About $60,000 of that has been spent on projects such as informational postcards, online ads and notices sent to local businesses and Utah Jazz season ticket holders.

More information is available at www.parkingslc.com.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero