Smart Parking Meters

When urbanists think about parking meters, we typically think that they are necessary to correctly set the market price for parking in a particular urban area. Many of us also think that people who gripe about them simply don't want to pay, and that they don't understand why metered parking makes spaces more accessible when they might otherwise not be. Admittedly, I used to think this way.

(from Flickr user CascadeFoto)

My thinking changed last weekend, when I was out for lunch with a friend of the blog. This person was perfectly willing to pay for a metered parking space, but was aggravated by the meters anyway. Why? Because the meter had a maximum time of 1-hour. After an hour, one of us would have to run out and put more quarters in the meter, a highly inconvenient proposition, even though we were completely willing to pay.

I'd go a step further and say that for people who think they can beat the system and avoid getting a ticket, or who believe 'free parking' is a god-given right deserve any parking ticket that they get. But there is another subset of people, those who simply forget the time at which their meter expires, or intend to run out but lose track of time, or have a pocket full of pennies but no quarters, then get an expensive ticket and then curse the whole phenomenon of metered parking. It's this second group of people that we should think about.

This is an instance in which technology really could be the answer. Meters could be installed with a technology linked to mobile phones so that all payments could be made online automatically. Maybe a person could tell the meter how much time to give them and then pay a pro-rated rate based on the time they use. They could have the option to automatically add more time once the meter expires. Maybe they could set it for an indefinite period of time and pay for all the time they used whenever they return. For the people who don't believe in technology, the meters could still accept quarters and dimes.

It may seem over-the-top now, but in a year or two it might not. After all, it was only a year or two that smartphones even started plaing a significant role in people's lives. Now there are smartphone apps that do things so incredible even I am routinely amazed.


    On May 10, 2010 C said...

    Here in Bethesda, Maryland, at least one of the garages (I don't own a car, nor do I drive regularly) has mobile payment as an option. I believe the system is called Go Park Now.

    On May 11, 2010 Jeff said...

    I agree with upgrading meters - that's long overdue in most cities in the US. And I think the 1-hour meter your friend was dealing with is probably a little restrictive, but the system you're proposing seems to undermine the service that metered on-street parking is meant to provide. The purpose is supposed to be for people going to lunch at a restaurant, or running a few errands in one area and then heading out. It's not meant to accommodate all-day parking. Clearly you could turn it into an all-day parking spot in the way you mentioned - by physically visiting and feeding the machine. But the system you're proposing makes it too easy for an office worker to park on the curb and remotely add time.

    I don't think the technology you're proposing seems very far off, I just don't think it should be used in that scenario.


    C, thanks for the tip.

    Jeff, I tend to agree with you. But I wonder how much this could be addressed by charging for parking progressively based on how close a space is to the front door? Under the current system, we have a lot full of meters that charge the same rate, but vary based on how often you have to re-feed the meter. Perhaps we could have a lot full of theoretically 'unlimited time' meters that vary in cost based on location? That would make it economically disadvantageous for that office worker to do what you fear would happen.