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A better parking meter?

November 07, 2003

Why do we need parking meters anyway?

Using meters to regulate parking forces motorists to carry a pocketful of change and to remember when their meter's time expires, because if they don't, they'll get a ticket.

But with a limited number of spaces, doing away with meters would encourage some people to park all day, leaving no spaces for those who only need to stop for a few minutes.

The City of Frederick has a new-to-this-region twist on this old problem. In one block of downtown, the city has installed a pay-parking system that's been used in Europe for decades.

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Instead of feeding the meter, drivers go to a machine in the middle of the block, where they insert a credit card or cash. In return they get a receipt, with date and time marked on it, which they place on the dashboard where enforcement people can see it.

The minus side of this system is that instead of just feeding the meter and going on about one's business, the motorist must feed the machine, then return to the car with a receipt.

On the plus side, cities where the system is in use have experienced a 40 to 60 percent increase in parking fees. That's probably because the extra work involved forces drivers to think twice about putting in too little money and risking a ticket.

What the machine apparently doesn't do is allow merchants to validate parking stubs, as they can for those who park in a deck. And one motorist interviewed in Frederick by the Associated Press complained that he had to pay $1 for time that would have cost him only a quarter had there been a conventional meter there.

Here are some possible solutions to those dilemmas:

- Program the machines so that merchants could hand out slips that would give the shoppers credit the next time they visit, and

- Offer annual parking passes that could be fed into the machine, providing minutes as they're needed and doing away with the need to carry one's credit card in hand on a public street.

Why do we need parking meters? Because sometimes people interpret "free" parking as a license to forget others' needs and keep their car in a prime space all day. Meters are a sad but necessary curb on such people.

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