Mind Over Meter: Are The City’s New Parking Meters Too Smart?


New smart meters will boost city revenue, but they’ve put good parking karma into reverse

A parking meter used to be dumb. Essentially a kitchen timer crossed with a pay phone, it was built to measure thin slices of time while snacking on coins (and later credit cards) all day. Now it’s getting a whole lot smarter, thanks to a new series of solar-powered, technologically advanced models that come with hockey puck-size sensors installed beneath each parking spot. These computerized upgrades, which have been rolled out in Santa Monica, take standard money suckers and transform them into sophisticated data trackers to make parking easier, more efficient, and maybe even ticket free.

The geeky embellishments mean no more sprinting to feed your meter like it’s a newborn baby. Instead you can receive a text message and pay with your mobile phone without getting up from the brunch table. The projected annual revenue from the Santa Monica smart meters is $1.7 million, and there’s an even more valuable bonus: abundant traffic data. “We want to provide the city with data on how parking spaces are used and work with engineers to develop parking management,” says Don Paterson, the assistant director of finance in Santa Monica. The capability to direct drivers to open spaces could put an end to block circling forever.

That certainly sounds smart, maybe a little too smart. Sensors can track car movement, which means when your time is up, there’s no adding on, just moving on. Another (currently dormant) feature can alert parking police when you max out your minutes. Then there’s all that personal data. Credit cards are already fraud magnets. Add a phone number and (in some cases) a license plate number, and you’ve supplied a lot of information for a 20-minute shopping trip.

The genius devices also extinguish a shared spiritual experience among Angelenos: good parking karma. In the old days, if you used part of your meter time, you could enjoy a pay-it-forward moment with the stranger who pulled in after you. The newbies are now programmed to swallow unused minutes and, with that, kick a half century of goodwill to the curb.

Photograph courtesy Matthias Kulka/Corbis

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  • thephxrising

    The sadists who invented these abominations should be justly rewarded — with the Iron Cross.

  • http://exiledinhollywood.blogspot.com HollywoodDriver

    If your meter runs out before you can get to it, a parking enforcement person will probably beat you there. But it’s not just in Santa Monica. I came running up as I was getting a ticket, and the traffic cop showed me a square thing on the road which, he said, has a sensor which told him that though the meter had expired, a car was parked here. So as soon as the meter expired he was right there to write the ticket.

    That’s what we all get for loving computers so dang much.

  • http://www.yjraimanformayor.org YJ Draiman for Mayor of LA

    Are LA voters angry enough to change the current administration at Los Angeles City Hall???

    LA voters in the March 2011 Elections voted for incumbents – People do not care, why???

    Why do we think LA city election on March 5, 2013 will be any different???

    I would think with the poor performance and dismal track record by the current administration, the voters would demand to change the current administration at LA City Hall.
    4 of the current LA Mayoral candidates are mostly recycled LA City Council members who have proven themselves unworthy by their repeated failure to solve the City’s problems and Council staff members who have demonstrated their loyalty and obedience to their pockets, like well-trained dogs.
    The corruption in LA government must be stopped. Public corruption in LA City Hall “pay-to-play”.

    The performance of the current administrations borders on criminal neglect.
    In order to move forward, we must educate the voters, let them know that the current administration goals are business as usual, there will be no significant changes and the city will be heading into bankruptcy. The escalating costs of pensions and benefits will drain most of the city budget as we head into 2020. The increased taxes and fees on residents and businesses will push people and businesses to leave the city. This again will reduce revenues to the city.
    The city must initiate an austerity program. Cut salaries and benefits across the board, increase efficiency and performance. The Police Department should utilize civil service employees for clerical work, not Police Officers. The city must tighten its belt and reduce taxes and fees, streamline bureaucracy. Promote the health of existing businesses and actively go after new businesses. Any city employee who is not performing his job to standards should be put on suspension without pay or benefits and if such action has not improved the workers performance, the worker/employee should be terminated. The city must utilize its most expensive resource, its employees more efficiently, promote a good work environment and reward exceptional performance. People must realize that if they do not do their job, they will have no job and no means of support. The city must streamline management and reduce management costs. A high administrative cost is not prudent and not sustainable. LA’s employee costs are one of the highest in the country. We need a change in attitude, and that starts at the top. As they say in good leadership, “follow me”.

    The main question is, why LA voters don’t care, why they are resigned to accept failure and diminishing LA city services.

    Can we not find a leader who will motivate City Hall and initiate hard choices to bring the city to financial health?

    City elections should be held on the first Tuesday of November with all the other elections to Federal, County & State.
    It will reduce costs and increase voter turnout.
    The peoples brigade for honest government

    YJ Draiman

    “The choice we face in Los Angeles and as a nation is simple: Do we want the clean energy and conservation technologies of tomorrow to be invented in America by American innovators, made by American workers and sold around the world, or do we want to concede those jobs to our competitors?” Asks Energy Specialist YJ Draiman. “We can and must compete for those jobs.” In Los Angeles, we have the technology, the climate, the resources and the manpower. Let us proceed with conviction.

    YJ Draiman


    If you want to bring LA back to economic prosperity
    Elect YJ Draiman for Mayor of LA