A small company in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland has begun field-testing a new kind of parking meter. It uses sonar detection technology to determine when an automobile has left a parking spot, then resets its timer to zero, eliminating any leftover minutes. VOA's George Dwyer reports some city governments expect to collect new revenue from the "smart" meters. But many motorists say they feel like their pockets are being picked.
Finding curbside parking in most downtown shopping districts can be time consuming and frustrating. Space is valuable and scarce. So local governments use parking meters to collect user fees. The meters also serve another purpose.
"They are for generating revenue, but it is not their primary purpose. The primary purpose of street meters is to change habits," says Glen Hellman, Chief Executive Officer of IntelliPark. His firm has developed a new kind of street meter. He says it will help change people's parking habits by encouraging them to keep their curbside stops short.
"This is really a minicomputer, the same type of mini-computer that you use in a PC [Personal Computer] -- just applied toward a meter."
Hellman's firm is field-testing the Intellimeter outside Washington, D.C. It uses sonar detection technology.
"Two things our meter does," says Hellman. One is when a car leaves, we recognize the car left, and if there is any excess time left on the meter, we zero the meter out.”
Hellman says that can increase a city's parking meter revenues by 20 to 50 percent. The second thing his smart meter does is prevent people from "feeding" meters to hold on to a single spot for hours on end.
"We know what time the car got here. We know it has been here two hours. And when a person comes here and tries to feed the meter we won't allow that. We will keep the quarter."
But not everyone agrees this is a good idea. One driver said, “Here they are charging twice for the same amount of time. And that to me is taking too much money out of your pocket. That's pure graft.”
Another said, “They make enough money on parking meters as it is, thank you very much.”
“I mean, this is a rip-off.” said another man being succinct.
Hellman points out that his device has driver-friendly features as well. For example, the Intellimeter can be programmed to grant a few minutes worth of free parking when a new car pulls into a spot.
"We recommend to the community when a meter comes you offer a free grace period. So, between five and 15 minutes can be offered as a grace period on these meters."
And he says, once computer processing power is installed in meters, networks can be created that will provide additional benefits to cities and citizens.
"Our next generation meter incorporates a low powered radio that communicates with a centralized radio that has Internet connectivity, and with that you can unleash all kinds of features,” Hellman told us.
One example - meters that phone customers to warn that their meter time is nearly up.
One man liked that feature. "I think it's a great idea for the simple reason: I ran out of time on my meter, and then we have a cell phone, the meter would have called us and tell us that we ran out of time, and it would have given us extra time on the meter so we don't get a parking ticket."
Don't expect a phone call from your local parking meter any time soon, however. The new "smart" meter is still in the testing phase.