Santa Barbara plans to replace kiosk workers with automated license plate readers at its downtown, waterfront and airport parking lots.
Santa Barbara plans to replace kiosk workers with automated license plate readers at its downtown, waterfront and airport parking lots. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara’s parking lot kiosk workers soon might give their last tickets.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 7-0 to install automated license plate readers at its downtown, waterfront and airport parking lots. The city manages 7,360 parking spaces.

The city has not yet purchased the technology, but Rob Dayton, the transportation planning and parking manager for the city, said purchasing is the next step and that it could cost about $500,000.

The new technology would mean the end of kiosk workers because the gate would automatically rise when people exit within the allotted free time. People who exceed the limit would pay at the kiosk with a credit card or pre-paid card if they don’t have cash. 

“The bottom line is that the parking industry, the way we are running it with people and the rise in the minimum wage and the challenges now of COVID, and whether we will have the right customer base to carry on, we need to change our financial model,” Dayton said.

He said the kiosketeers are “amazing at what they do,” and they do much more than take people’s money.

“It is kind of the sad truth,” Dayton said. “The only reason to have an LPR is to make that financial change.”

The change means contactless interaction, a reduction in wait times and fewer lost tickets.

Councilwoman Meagan Harmon relunctantly supported the change, but she raised concerns about privacy and the collection of data.

“I am generally uncomfortable with the general erosion of our privacy rights,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said. “This is a move toward bulk data collection, and in some ways, that makes us feel safe because it’s bulk, anonymous or that it’s not being tracked, that it’s just one data point amongst many, but it’s really not anonymous. It’s not anonymous at all.”

Harmon’s pushback convinced the staff to keep the date only for 72 hours after entering and exiting the lot.

Dayton said that law enforcement authorities would not have access to the data and that it could be obtained only through a court order. The city would allow the ALPR technology to collect only license plate data within public view and not for the purpose of monitoring individual activities that are otherwise protected by the First Amendment.

The cameras would not be used in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, and shall not be used to harass, intimidate or discriminate against any individual or group, according to city officials.

“I am not sure I would want this data used in an employment case or a divorce matter,” Harmon said.

She agreed to the change because the lots are public.

“We’re talking about government property here,” Harmon said. “These parking lots are government property, and people make the choice to come onto them.”

Currently, Paseo Nuevo, a private mall, uses the automated license plate readers.

Mounted cameras capture license plate data as vehicles enter and before exiting the parking facility. The data captured upon entry and exit are used by the system to calculate the fee due or to automatically lift the gate if the vehicle is within the complimentary period.

The ALPR system can also allow parking permit holders to pass into and out of lots without having to pull entrance tickets or pay fees upon exit.

A kiosk worker interviewed by Noozhawk on Wednesday said he had heard of the pending change.

“It’s inevitable, I guess, but at the same time the kind of benefit here is that a lot of people don’t know exactly what they are doing,” downtown kiosk worker Devyn Straede said. “A lot of people struggle, and that could lead to backups. We’re mainly more here for customer service and helping people.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.