Magazine

On-Street Parking: A Primer

Editor's note: The PT staff has parked in a lot of cities and towns and found the following ways to collect money and control on-street parking. This is not an exhaustive list, only those we have found lately. Any more you know? Let us know. Thanks to Neil Podmore of Verrus, Patrick Ryan of Reino, Michael Rodger of Digital Payment Technologies, Ken Greenwood of Parkeon, and Bobra Wilbank of POM for their input on this article.

Controlled parking, no equipment -
This technique is as old as wagons and chariots. If you park too long, or in the wrong place, you get a citation. It's enforced by signs and an enforcement officer with a piece of chalk on a long stick. The benefits are that you don't need any expensive equipment. The downside is that it is very labor-dependent and -intensive.
Parking meters -
The original solution, and still a good one. Meters, particularly the new solid-state devices, are flexible, easy to use and understand, and, in some cases, can even change rates by time. Virtually all drivers know how to use them, and enforcement is simple. Flag up (or display red), parkers get a ticket.
The new solid-state meters require little maintenance, but each meter must be visited periodically to pick up the money. There are new audit features on meters, but you have to have the new ones.
There are meters that control two adjacent spaces.
Pluses:
(1) If one meter goes down, only one space is affected. If a pay-and-display or pay-by-space machine goes down, numerous parking spaces are affected, and people must walk much farther to pay.
(2) Meters can refund leftover time to the last smart card used. You cannot get a refund on a pay-and-display or pay-by-space machine. This might be considered a plus for the pay-and-display machine from the city's viewpoint.
(3) The parker is less confused about where to pay; the meter is right next to the vehicle.
(4) Vandals and thieves must attack numerous meters to accumulate pocket change. They need attack only one multispace machine to reap a significant reward.
(5) Meters with high-visibility rotary displays (or flashing LEDs at night) allow quick drive-by enforcement -- not possible with most other forms of paid parking.
Minuses:
(1) Some consider parking meter poles on the street unsightly.
(2) Collection of revenue is more labor-intensive than with other forms of paid parking.
Pay-and-display -
Pay-and-display machines can handle multiple spaces. Usually one machine per block is enough. The parker follows the instructions on the machine, gets a ticket with a time stamped on it, and puts it on his or her dash. The enforcement officer simply looks at the ticket and if the current time is later than the time on the ticket, writes the citation.
These machines can take credit cards or cash, give change, and notify the central office when they are out of paper or broken.
Enforcement can be a tad more difficult than with meters (the officer has to look in each car); however, maintenance can be lower, and you visit only one place per block to pick up the money.
Some municipalities with pay-and-display don't even mark their streets with individual stalls. They just let cars park on the curb, and if they have a working ticket, all is OK. You can potentially get an extra car per side, depending on the size of the cars.
Pluses:
(1) May be less expensive per parking space to purchase the machine, depending on the number of spaces it will handle.
(2) Can accept a wider variety of payment methods.
(3) Can be used without marking parking spaces.
(4) Maintenance and collections are centralized.
Minuses:
(1) May be confusing and inconvenient for parkers.
(2) When a machine goes down, many spaces are affected.
(3) Vandalism and theft activities are centralized.
(4) What about motorcycles and convertibles? Even with a display pouch, someone can steal the pouch and ticket and display it on their own vehicle.
(5) With today's graphic software and scanners, making bootleg receipts would be very easy.
Pay-by-space -
Pay-by-space machines require that you have a number posted for each space. When the parker leaves their car, they go to the machine, input the space number, and put in the amount of money for the time they want. These units can have all the features of the pay-and-display (accept coin, notes, cards, etc.), but they don't require parkers to return to the vehicle and drop off the ticket on the dash.
Pluses:
(1) Pay-by-space machines can be easy to enforce. A trip to the machine by the officer gives a list of all violators by space number. (This can also be transmitted to his handheld.) The officer can then go directly to the violator's vehicle and write the citation.
(2) May be less expensive per parking space to purchase the machine, depending on the number of spaces it will handle.
(3) Can accept a wider variety of payment methods.
(4) Maintenance and collections are centralized.
Minuses:
(1) May be confusing and inconvenient for parkers.
(2) When a machine goes down, many spaces are affected.
(3) Vandalism and theft activities are centralized.
(4) a few more pay-by-space machines are needed per block than with pay-and-display, but some feel the benefits in enforcement outweigh this.
In-vehicle meters -
These small devices either hang from the vehicle's mirror or can sit on the dash. Most have a large display and a flashing light. They can be charged at the central office (bring in the unit or an associated card). Parkers simply enter into the "zone" in which they are parking and turn on the meter.
The enforcement officer looks for the flashing light (or running display). If it's flashing, all is OK. If not, the citation will be written.
Pluses:
(1) You get your money upfront and you also get a "float" (i.e., use of the public's money in advance).
Minuses:
(1) They aren't inexpensive, and they require that parkers sign up in advance and usually provide a deposit for the meters.
(2) Those with motorcycles and convertibles risk theft of their in-vehicle device.
Pay-by-cell phone -
Ah, the wonders of technology. There are a number of different flavors of pay by cell phone. All require that you sign up in advance and leave a credit card number. (You can, in some cases, do this the first time you park in an area with a pay-by-cell phone operation.)
Parkers simply dial the toll-free number and enter the area and amount of time they wish to park. That's it.
The enforcement officer has a list on his handheld (or cell phone) of license numbers that are paid in a given area. He simply checks the list against the vehicles and writes a citation for those that are not on the list.
This entire process can be manual (check the list on your PDA or cell) or can be completely automated with certain citation-writing equipment.
The benefits are that no equipment at all is required. Vendors have all the equipment in their central location. Reports are readily available over the Internet.
Minuses:
(1) Not everyone who drives a vehicle has a cell phone. Those who do will have to deal with signal interference, low batteries, roaming fees, etc.
(2) Not every parker is willing to accumulate credit card debt for parking, especial those who already have credit card or other debt problems. The credit card service provider will retain a portion of the parking fee, which can be significant when you consider that most parking is a small-ticket item.
On-street permits -
These typically work in residential areas where the same parkers use the streets. It's simple: The sign says only vehicles with Permit "A," or whatever, can park here between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. Vehicles without the permit get a ticket. Works well in densely populated areas, so residents can park on the street overnight and not have their spaces taken by transients. Or vice versa, they can keep employees from surrounding businesses off residential streets during the day.
Minuses:
With today's graphic software and color printers, making bootleg permits is very easy.

Which is the best? It depends on your application.

Article Abstract from February, 2005




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