Thursday April 17, 2014 Full Website »

Did Parking Meters Just Get Too Smart?

Did Parking Meters Just Get Too Smart?
Flickr/paulswansen

This week, the on-street parking meters in Santa Monica, California, have evolved to the next state of sentient existence. Now, whenever a car leaves a spot, the meter will reset itself, even if there's still time left on the meter. The tiny, measured-in-minutes lottery prize of the urban driver is no more.

Through the use of parking space sensors (which we've written about before), Santa Monica's meters now know when a car leaves a spot and can automatically reset itself to require whoever parks there next to pay the full price of parking. It's part of the intelligent parking system that the city has been rolling out, which includes the ability to accept coins and credit cards, send text messages when metered time is running out, and compile information to help the city better price its parking to correspond with demand.

With all this added intelligence, the inefficiencies of the old pocket change-eating meters are beginning to fade away. These smart parking spots even know when you've outstayed your time-sensitive welcome, disallowing you from putting more time in the meter if you've been there too long. Two-hour parking, all of a sudden, really does mean two-hour parking.

These are technological improvements that can have large-scale impacts on the ways cities relate to their parking enforcement efforts. By making parking spaces less of a birthright and more of a product, cities like Santa Monica hope they can get drivers to pay a reasonable, market-determined price for the space they'd like to use – or to let that price discourage them from using that space. Or from driving at all.

There are many arguments in favor of putting a high price on parking, almost all of them based on the work of UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup, who has argued that making sure people pay for parking can reduce driving, increase revenue and cut down the congestion associated with the parking hunt. Cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Fort Worth are already experimenting with systems that enable real-time pricing of on-street parking meters, and many more are implementing or crafting pilot programs.

And while pricing is an increasingly attractive option for cities, few have announced their intention to take the extra – some might say extra-mean – step of resetting meters when cars pull away. At least in Santa Monica, the days of happily finding a few free minutes at your parking spot are over. Your city may be next.

Photo credit: Flickr/paulswansen

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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