Magazine

Personal In-Car Parking Meters

Karen Hupe and Brice Holland

As cities continue their urban growth -- and the number of vehicles continues to escalate -- and as colleges with their concentrated land areas keep adding more students and more buildings, one issue presents an ongoing challenge for cities and campuses alike: parking.
Whether it's a high-traffic business district or a space-challenged campus setting, parking options run the gamut -- from pay lots to street-side meters to complicated permit systems. In many cases, a combination of these parking solutions makes up a comprehensive parking picture.
While street-side meters provide an adequate solution for many situations, new technologies and evolving parking trends have created the need for more flexible and customer-focused products.
The meter that started it all
In 1935, on 14 city blocks in downtown Oklahoma City, 175 so-called parking meters were installed. Nearly seventy years after on-street meters first appeared, modern-day parking systems have evolved to include high-security garages, electronic pay-and-display units, integrated computer software, even the latest wireless technology. But many of the inherent parking issues are the same.
For cities and colleges that choose to use street-side parking meters, these issues include lack of parking spaces in high-traffic areas, no easy way to update parking rates or zones, and the high cost of installation and maintenance.
Advances in technology have resulted in another, more flexible solution. While on-street meters may make sense for some applications, more and more municipalities and campuses are choosing personal parking meters as a smart, alternative choice for managing their parking operations.
Personal parking meters -- small, but mighty
So, what exactly are personal parking meters? They are small, portable electronic devices (slightly larger than a Personal Digital Assistant) that hang on a vehicle's rearview mirror or the driver's-side grab bar and work in conjunction with prepaid smart cards. Also referred to as an "in-car or in-vehicle meter," they track actual parking time and subtract the corresponding amount from the prepaid card. The user is charged only for the time he or she uses -- down to the second.
Users can "refill" their prepaid smart cards as they would a phone card or gift card. The smart cards are both reusable and disposable, depending on the needs of the person parking and the parking department. Batteries provide about 800 hours of service, which is equivalent to about five months of normal daily use. The device creates a warning message when there is about eight hours of service left.
At first glance, personal parking meters deliver the same core benefits as their curbside cousins. But they also provide numerous unique beneficial features. They benefit the city or campus by:
Providing upfront revenue. Unlike traditional parking meters, users prepay for their parking fees by purchasing (and refilling) smart cards. This makes budgeting for parking operations (and collecting money) easier and more convenient.
Cleaning up the streets. Many towns are using personal parking meters to help remove the "visual clutter" caused by street-side meters. Also, because they aren't exposed to the elements or the public, "wear and tear" and vandalism have been shown to be significantly reduced.
Enhancing collections. Because such meters don't have to be emptied of coins, parking enforcement can focus on other important tasks. Plus, people with in-car meters are much more likely to comply and actually pay for parking, because they have made a commitment and an investment ahead of time.
Providing a plan for the future. Personal parking meters can be coded with zones that make it possible for municipalities and campuses to measure traffic and collect valuable data regarding the use of specific parking areas, which can be used for planning purposes. By collecting and analyzing the data from each individual's smart card, parking behaviors can be identified for future facilities needs and/or adjustments to the overall parking system (e.g., rates, maximum length of parking, rezoning of parking lots).
Personal parking meters benefit the end-user with:
Convenience. Unlike street-side parking meters, they are a convenient, coinless system based on actual parking time. There's no more rummaging for spare quarters, overpaying for time you end up not using, or rushing frantically back to your car in order to "feed the meter."
Flexibility. Since personal parking meters can be programmed with numerous zones, users enjoy more flexibility than with often-complicated permit systems.
Cost savings. Again, the user pays for only the time he or she is actually parked in the space.

Who uses personal parking meters? Thousands are in use around the world, and that number is predicted to increase significantly in the next five years. Most usage is concentrated within three categories: campuses, resort communities and municipalities.
Campuses. With growing attendance and increased building initiatives to accommodate record growth, many colleges and business campuses are faced with too many vehicles and too few parking spaces. Permit systems are an adequate solution for full-time students, faculty and employees, but personal parking meters are being successfully utilized for those who park only infrequently or for shorter periods of time. And because they can be programmed to work in numerous parking zones, they allow users more flexibility and parking location options than traditional permits. It's also a solution for infrequent parkers for whom parking permits are too expensive.
They also are being used for "transportation demand management," which allows colleges and universities to reduce and manage the number of vehicles actually brought on campus. When events such as conferences and symposiums attract visitors who don't normally park on campus, personal parking meters have been used to provide an easy and convenient parking solution.
Resort communities. Personal parking meters can be found in resort or "destination" communities from Aspen to Amsterdam. They help improve the parking experience for both visitors and residents. John Hoelzle, Assistant Parking Services Manager for the city of Fort Lauderdale, FL, said: "We received very positive feedback from our customers [who said they] provided a lot more flexibility than the previous system." The city introduced its new personal parking system in February 2004.
Municipalities. In many cases, a city-run department controls the management of all parking operations. By including these meters as part of an overall parking plan, municipalities are able to save time and money while providing better service for its customers.
Cities can also use them for special events and sporting venues where fans return for numerous games each season. They can be included in the price of season tickets. And hospitals can use personal parking meters for patients who have to visit a health care facility for regular, ongoing treatments.
Over the years, technology and experience have led to parking solutions that save time, increase efficiencies and allow for more customer-focused service. The key to the future success of personal parking meters is their flexibility and mobility.

Karen Hupe can be reached at khupe@t2systems.com

Article Abstract from April, 2004




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