Park your temper, too, when operating new meters

“Little Joe never once gave it away.  Everybody had to pay and pay.” Lou Reed, “Walk On The Wild Side,” 1972


Once upon a time, Manhattan drivers could park their horses for free on any street. The automobile came along and, by the 1930s, there were too many cars for too few spaces all over the USA.  Solutions were demanded, a few were proffered, and finally an Oklahoma newspaper editor named Carl Magee was issued patent #2, 118, 318 on May 24, 1938 for a “coin controlled parking meter.”    By the early 1940s, there were over 150,000 parking meters all over America.

After decades of service, the coin-operated meter is being replaced by a computerized boxes requiring drivers to buy time by coin or credit card—or a special parking card one can obtain by calling 311.  The driver is then issued a slip of paper indicating the time purchased and the expiration date, which must be displayed right side up on the dashboard, visible to the fuzz through the windshield.

No longer do meter men and women need approach ten coin meters on each street and empty them of quarters.  It’s one box per street now, maybe two on longer streets, more on avenues.  You can’t bang the box on the side of its head and get a few more minutes, either, as you used to with coin meters.

The new system sucks for drivers, though.  The new boss is an occasional bone-headed, inept tightwad who isn’t giving away anything, not even the 5 or 10 minutes left on the last guy’s meter.

Once upon a time, a driver could take advantage of the unused parking meter time left by other drivers, count on a grace period of one to as many as nine minutes before a parking meter’s “expired” red flag would pop up, and, most importantly, be able to park, pop a quarter in the meter, and be on our way.   That’s through.

Clearly, the new boss sucks.

When you drive to Manhattan, be sure to bring a roll of quarters (in case you find yourself parked at a meter coughing up a measly 10 minutes per quarter) a bunch of dollar coins (so if you encounter a parking box, you need not feed it 16 or 20 quarters) or be prepared to insert your credit/debit card in case the new machine’s coin slot decides to freeze shut.

Also, sometimes the coin slot—the keeper of the gate—closes in between coins and you stand there like a dummy before it deigns to open up again for whatever reason.

Ok, gripe over.

Here’s what other municipalities are doing about parking in unique if big-brotherish ways, and you can bet none are buying ads saying, “Our new improved method of parking is going to cost less!” It’s always more, folks—remember that. Always more.

*Smart spots

These are pavement-embedded sensors which detect whether or not a space is occupied. When someone drives away, the sensor clears the meter, so you can’t hitchhike on someone else’s dime.

*Paying by cell phone

On some meters in Las Vegas, drivers can make meter payments via their cell phones, and receive text messages warning them 10 minutes before the meter expires. They can then buy more time without visiting the meter again. In Coral Gables, Fla., motorists register their license plate number, credit card information and cell phone, then call a special number after they park, entering a lot and/or space number.

*In-car meters

Aspen, Colorado drivers purchase meters that hang from the rear-view mirror, pre-paying for a block of time. They switch the meter on when they park, it counts down the time and replenishes itself by automatic payment.

*Infrared license plate scanners

In Sacramento and Chicago, parking enforcement vehicles are rigged with infrared camera systems that scan license plates and link to a GPS system, which can tell them which cars have been parked too long in a two-hour zone. You know what happens next.

*Multipurpose parking cards

In Bridgeport, CT, motorists can purchase metered parking with a debit card that also can be used to shop at participating stores and other municipalities.

– Josh Max,