Focus on Pay and Display - Times They are a Changing...
When Mary Travers sang those words nearly 35 years ago, she probably wasn't talking about parking. But, the times are changing, particularly when it comes to Pay and Display and meters.
The results are in -- it's official. There are two approaches to collecting money for on-street parking, meters or Pay and Display/pay by space. The secret is this: It is most likely also true that there are applications in every community for each.
Used in Europe for over a decade, this approach is catching on in the U.S. Although it requires drivers to find the P-and-D machine, get the receipt and place it on their dash, many find it more convenient as the units take credit cards, bills and can give change. Some of the "all singing, all dancing" units can also sell tickets to local events, and provide visitor information.
A number of cities including Portland, OR; Denver; New York; Chicago; Oakland, CA; and Houston have installed the machines, either as tests, or in the case of Denver and Portland, full-fledged replacement of meters.
A hybrid of P and D is Pay by Space. The driver notes the space number, goes to the P by S machine, enters the space number, pays, and is on their way. The enforcement officer simply goes to the machine and prints out a report showing the spaces that are past due.
When deciding between the two, one should take into consideration the layout of the area. If there are long sight lines and it is easy to see the P and D units, then their application may be appropriate. If there are only three or four spaces in an area, perhaps meters would be more cost effective. You need to carefully survey your parking spaces and select the unit that best fits each application.
Many enforcement officers don't like having to get out of their cars to check a P-and-D slip. They like to survey an entire block of meters to see whether or not any have expired. They like the fact that on the P-and-D slip they can tell how much longer remains until there is a violation. They love P-by-S since they can check 20 or more spaces with one stop.
This comes down to education. What one must remember is what one is trying to accomplish with the meters. Are you trying to collect money, or provide spaces for parkers and support the merchants in the area? If it's the former, then listen to your enforcement staff; if it's the latter, do what is best for the community.
Meters have come a long way since the first one was introduced in 1935. Complicated clock mechanisms have been replaced with solid-state computerized innards that offer a variety of features including telling the collector (and auditor) how much money should have been take out. A real benefit of the new technology is the ability to apply variable rates.
This feature enables a meter owner to change the rates by time of day or day of week. No longer must the rules be set to fit the machines. These units can now be programmed for numerous variables. It may be appropriate to set them to force drivers to move vehicles every 30 minutes during a period when high turnover is desirable, but to allow them to park longer in the evenings, when they are dining or attending an event in the area.
Repair and maintenance have becomes easier, too. What was at one time a watchmakers craft has become a task of swapping boards at the meter. The new solid-state units have brought many changes.
Change brings problems
The hardware and software that run modern parking meters or P-and-D machines is different depending on the company you select. In the past, you could buy meters mechs from any of the three major suppliers and they were interchangeable in the housings. While that may be true today for the solid-state mechanisms themselves, what is not compatible are the hardware and software used to collect the data and program the units.
The very features that makes the computerized meters beneficial for data collection and audibility means that if you have two different suppliers, you have to have different collection devices, separate databases, and the like. Many cities finding themselves in this situation have given up using the benefits of solid state, and have simply replaced mechanical meters with comprised ones and not availed themselves of the benefits.
John Van Horn is editor and publisher of Parking Today. He can be reached at email@example.com.