There’s a coffee shop in Broad Ripple that allows you to get your own coffee and leave your payment in the till. Total time for most transactions would be less than two minutes.
If you park directly out front, in a metered space, you have a choice. You can park, walk down the street to the payment system, pay for the spot, and walk back down to get your coffee. Or you can chance it by parking out front, running in, grabbing your coffee, and trying to get back to the car before getting a ticket.
That's still a chance you can take for those short dashes in and out.
But for longer visits there's now a better way.
Parking meters have been discouraging long-term parkers, generating revenue, and irritating drivers since the first installation in 1935.
The Achilles’ heel of all parking systems is enforcement. We have visions of meter maids walking the streets looking for expired meters and writing tickets. (Side note: The term “meter maids” originated in New York in 1960 when the city hired a team of women to provide enforcement services. It was seven years before the first man was hired.)
This system leads to a game of chance: You can park in a spot and either not pay at all or stay beyond your paid time frame without getting a ticket. The question is whether you can get back to your car before the enforcement officer notes your infraction.
As you might have noticed, most parking systems here in Indianapolis don’t work this way any longer. In many cases, enforcement is automatic and nearly instant. Here’s how it works:
For each parking spot, a small disc is embedded in the pavement. This disc senses when a car is parked above it and sends a signal to the monitoring system. When you get out of the car and pay for the spot, the system makes note. When your time expires (or if you don’t bother to pay) a signal is sent out and a message delivered to the enforcement officer with the exact location of your car. Generally, they’ll be there writing the ticket before you are.
The people who run these systems understand the fine line between providing great mobility management tools and really irritating their constituents. To help with the latter, a company called Parkmobile USA has developed a free smartphone application that you should download immediately.
Parkmobile is designed to allow you to manage your parking needs. Simply install the app, create an account with your license number and payment information, and you can pay for your parking spot from your phone wherever you park.
The app has a mapping application that can help you find a spot nearby and even lead you back to your car if you’ve forgotten where you put it.
If you’re running behind, you can add time to the meter from the phone. It will also prompt you when your time is running short.
You can use your account with multiple cars and multiple phones, which makes the management simple for multi-car families or businesses. The coverage is great and growing: You can use Parkmobile to find and pay for parking in hundreds of cities and towns.
Businesspeople might also appreciate the online access to your parking data. With this simple tool, you can track your expenses and export the file to submit it for reimbursement.
So while the old days of avoiding paying a quarter to park are gone, the new technology allows you to avoid ever getting a ticket again.
That’s a tradeoff I can live with. •
Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at email@example.com.