Grayslake has turned back the clock at the village's Metra commuter rail station on Lake Street.
Automated machines were installed at the depot 10 years ago to accept daily parking fees and replaced metal pay boxes that required commuters to slide dollar bills or coins through a numbered slot. It was thought the gizmos would be more convenient for commuters and make it easier for police to track unpaid spaces with a printout.
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But old-school is cool again at the Lake Street station. The machines have been scrapped and the pay boxes are back, complete with a metal strip that hangs from the side to poke a bill completely through the slot.
Mayor Rhett Taylor said pay boxes have been at Grayslake's second Metra station off Washington Street since it opened in 2006, so over time officials compared the low-tech collection method to the machines at the depot on the village's south side. He said the pay boxes proved superior for bills and coins.
"We often put a lot of faith in technology," Taylor said.
Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said officials are unaware of any other towns along the agency's lines that are dumping automation and returning to the boxes.
In 2002, Grayslake was among the first suburbs to switch from the boxes to the payment machines for the 653 spaces at the Lake Street station for the Milwaukee District/North Line. The village spent $78,000 for the devices, which Deputy Village Manager Derek Soderholm said required paying the vendor an annual maintenance fee of about $10,000.
At 10 years old, the machines didn't have much life remaining, Soderholm said. Poor performance in cold weather and customer dissatisfaction over periodic breakdowns convinced the village to return to the pay boxes, he said.
In addition, Soderholm said, about half the commuters parking at Lake Street pay monthly and receive a tag to hang from a vehicle's rearview mirror.
It's more labor-intensive for community service officers to again collect cash from the pay boxes, he said, but it took more time 10 years ago when monthly parking wasn't offered.
"They worked," Soderholm said of the automated machines. "They got us by. But over the years, there were many issues."
Just down the road, Libertyville is bullish on the machines that replaced the boxes in 2011 at the two Prairie Crossing commuter train stations, served by Metra's Milwaukee District/North and North Central lines.
Libertyville paid $63,000 for installation of the machines that accept cash and credit, with removal of the old boxes and staff training included in the price. The village can activate an option allowing commuters to pay using a mobile telephone application.
Libertyville's Assistant Village Manager Kelly Amidei said it'll cost about $10,000 annually for a maintenance agreement on the daily parking machines. She said there haven't been any problems with the devices.
"We've been extremely pleased with the new machines because they've increased our efficiency," Amidei said.
Libertyville officials said the old boxes occasionally froze and required employees to thaw them with a blowtorch. Roughly 230 vehicles are parked in the Prairie Crossing lots in a given day.
Grayslake's return to the boxes is part of a $750,000 overhaul of the Lake Street depot. Commuters will see a building upgrade, decorative light poles and other improvements.
Soderholm said it's hoped the work will be finished by late October. It will be paid from parking fees that go into a special revenue fund and is legally restricted to uses at the Metra station.