New Parking Meters: No Coins Required

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What can cities do to close widening budget gaps in a way that is both consumer- and environmentally-friendly? Try parking meters that accept credit and debit cards.

No doubt, it’s been a long road for the venerable, if unpopular, parking meter. The first meters popped up in Oklahoma City, Okla., in 1938, after town leaders grew tired of complaints from visitors and shoppers that downtown workers were hogging all the parking spaces.

Not much has changed in that dynamic in the last 70 years or so — except in the past few years, when the device has undergone a “meter makeover” to make it more consumer- and environmentally-friendly.

The first change was to shift meter payments from cash to credit cards, a trend that has already started in cities like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City, among others.

Los Angeles is installing 10,000 new parking meters that accept credit card swipes in addition to cash payments. The meters are also powered by solar energy, and are monitored by a wireless signal that immediately calls for a technician if the meter fails. And, since the meters are built to accommodate credit card users, they are increasingly tamper-proof (thieves are less likely to take on a meter with less cash in the box, city officials say).

The city expects to hike parking revenues by up to $1.5 million through the new meters annually, and says it has increased revenues significantly over the short time that the meters have been installed on city streets. Currently, city officials say that L.A. collects between $100 million and $150 million in city garage and parking meter revenues each year.

About 500 “Card & Coin” meters are up and running now, with the remaining 9,500 to be installed by July 1. L.A. has about 40,000 parking meters in total, and the city is designating the new meters in high-traffic areas, according to spokesperson Casey Hernandez of the L.A. mayor’s office.

New York City is following suit, with placement of 500 new card-friendly meters in the midtown Theater District. Car owners can now use credit or debit cards to pay for parking on the Great White Way — or they can deposit old-fashioned coins.

With credit card-friendly parking meters, it seems that major U.S. urban centers are catching up to the fact that consumers aren’t carrying as much cash or coins as they used to.

Of course, even a credit card won’t save you if your car overstays its welcome. Because, after all, those pesky meter maids aren’t going anywhere.

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