Parking Meters

Why on earth are we still using coin operated parking meters when our highest value coin in actual use can only buy you seven and a half minutes of parking?

Matt Yglesias‘ renewal of his rant against cheap parking in congested cities reminded me of my trip into DC Saturday night to have dinner with friends and take in a Wizards game.

Because it’s crowded, DC requires for you to pay for parking on most of its streets even on evenings and weekends — through 10 pm!  That’s annoying but understandable.  Ditto the $2 an hour cost.

What’s not understandable, however, is the expectation that people will carry around half a metric ton of coins with them.  (Coins, for those of you under 35, are those little round things that they sometimes give you when you make very small purchases with cash and which you promptly throw into a drawer.) So, parking for an hour requires depositing eight quarters (those little round things with George Washington’s face on the front) into the meter. Since most of the meters have a 2-hour limit until after 6:30, that’s sixteen quarters!  Then, of course, you have to come back after 6:30 with yet more quarters.

Most Western Europeans did away with coin-operated decades ago — when people still actually carried coins around with them.  Why on earth are we still using them when our highest value coin in actual use can only buy you seven and a half minutes of parking?

In fairness, DC is finally experimenting with modern technology that will let people charge parking to a credit card, either directly or through a cell phone. But the overwhelming number of meters are still coin-fed.

Is this sheer incompetence, the usual explanation for anything DC? Or is it an intentional ploy to drive up revenue by artificially boosting the number of parking tickets?

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    The poor Susan B. Anthony dollar coin gets dissed again.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Indeed. Not only can I not recall the last time I got a dollar coin in change, I don’t think meters even take them. I believe it’s just quarters, dimes, and nickels.

  3. tom p says:

    “Is this sheer incompetence, the usual explanation for anything DC? Or is it an intentional ploy to drive up revenue by artificially boosting the number of parking tickets?”

    Much simpler: the cost of replacing all the parking meters in DC all at once vs. DC’s current revenues. You even admit that they already ARE replacing them now. So your real complaint is that they are not replacing them fast enuf to suit you or at least not in the areas you frequent most.

  4. george says:

    Higher denomination coins? In Canada they have loonies and twoonies ($1 and $2 coins, convenient for parking meters and the like).

  5. george says:

    Because not everyone has a credit card or cell phone.

  6. pylon says:

    “Higher denomination coins? In Canada they have loonies and twoonies ($1 and $2 coins, convenient for parking meters and the like).”

    Good point, although in my (Canadian) city we use machines on the street corner where you input your license plate and then buy time, with coins or debit/credit card.

  7. Brett says:

    (Coins, for those of you under 35, are those little round things that they sometimes give you when you make very small purchases with cash and which you promptly throw into a drawer.)

    Physical money? What’s that? Grandpa is talking crazy again.

    More seriously, it’d be nice if we could just get more parking garages instead of having to rely on those irritating meters. Most of the parking garages in my city accept credit card payments (in fact, some of the newer ones only take credit card payments and cash bills, which you insert into the automatic machine when you’re leaving).

    Or hell, just don’t bother with meters at all. That would encourage people to demand alternative means of transportation.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    I gather that you haven’t been to Chicago lately.

  9. James Joyner says:

    tom p: But the problem has existed for quite some time. The new machines just started showing up a year ago. In the interim, they’ve raised prices and extended the hours the meters are in operation, exacerbating the situation.

    george: Most of the newfangled meters also accept coins. Then again, I can’t imagine who simultaneously 1) owns an automobile, 2) parks it in DC, and 3) lacks either a credit card or a cell phone.

  10. MB says:

    Did you actually look for a parking meter? Or just write this w/o bothering? Because everything on 7th Street (and I think H and I) in the Verizon Center area is subject to the multi-space parking machines that take credit cards.

    And also, too, the coin operated meters take dollar coins.

  11. James Joyner says:

    MB: I looked for a parking space, not a parking meter. It’s not as if there isn’t heavy traffic and a lot of competition for spaces in DC.

    The space I found (by the Building Museum) took coins, not credit cards. And it’s real sweet of them to take dollar coins but neither I nor anyone else is likely to have any of those handy. So, quarters are the coin of the realm.

  12. Time for a little truly Outside the Beltway thinking, most places in the country give you a good deal more than 7.5 minutes for $0.25, and there is actually parking usually available on the street. A couple quarters takes care of any of the parking needs I have in St. Louis.

    From having lived in Reston for a few years and made many trips to DC, I know that you have a real problem, but please be cautious about creating a “solution” for the rest of us that isn’t needed.

  13. James Joyner says:

    Charles: Even out here in the DC suburbs, parking is generally free and plentiful. This is a big city problem, so naturally only the big cities need to solve it.

  14. Sure, but we all need to live in denser urban areas. Young Mr. Yglesias says so.

  15. Nicole says:

    I find that most places I go nowadays do have the meters that accept credit cards. What drives me crazy is that there are some neighborhoods (near the Nats stadium, for example) where none of them work. I’ve had the experience on several occasions of trying multiple meters, and either the digital display is broken (so you can’t see what you’re doing) or it won’t accept any credit card (when I know it’s not a problem with any of my cards). I’ve yet to get burned and get a ticket for this, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. I will contest that ticket and I can’t wait to see how the “well, I tried, but none of your meters worked” defense goes.

  16. JKB says:

    “… I can’t imagine who simultaneously 1) owns an automobile, 2) parks it in DC, and 3) lacks either a credit card or a cell phone.”

    That is very creditist or bank-poor discriminatory. The poor have a right to park and they may not have the credit or bank account. Are the poor to be relegated to public transportation with no hope of the freedom of the traffic clogged road? ACORN should use this to stage their comeback. You know there is an excess of out of work lawyers who went to law school because they dreamed of helping the downtrodden or, I guess, in this case the trodden.

  17. anjin-san says:

    > Most Western Europeans did away with coin-operated decades ago — when people still actually carried coins around with them. Why on earth are we still using them

    Probably the same reason we don’t have high speed rail and that our infrastructure and airports are so poor that Europeans and Asians from advance economies are hard pressed not to laugh out loud when they visit.

    Gee James, the government is not giving you something you want for your convienice fast enough to suit you? There is a handicapped only apartment complex near where I live that I have occasion to visit sometimes. The residents are terrified, and I mean real terror, that their wheelchair benefits are going to be cut. That the in-home services that they rely on are going away. Cry me a river about parking meters. You are upset about trivia like this? You need to get around a little bit more.

  18. matt says:

    Chicago had some nice parking setups… if you could find a spot ugh..

  19. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san:

    I’m not complaining that the government isn’t giving me something I want. Rather, I’m complaining that government is giving me something that I don’t want — having to pay to park my car, which is unheard of in most of the country — and doing it in the most inconvenient, inefficient manner possible.

    That’s a very different thing than people on the dole being afraid that their benefits might get cut. (Although, I must confess, I don’t know who’s proposing cutting back on wheelchair benefits.)

  20. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    “People on the dole”? Yea, well. we are talking about folks who are paralyzed or have no legs. I guess that’s kinda like being a bum. “The Dole” refers to unemployment, and these folks are facing someone more serious issues .

    Specifically, In CA we are talking about Medical Plan B & cuts that are on the table right now. A wheelchair falls under “durable medical equipment”.

    Limits on Use of Services. The proposal sets a yearly dollar cap on hearing aids ($1,510), durable medical equipment ($1,604), incontinence supplies ($1,659), urological supplies ($6,435), and wound care ($391), limits prescriptions (except life-saving drugs) to six per month, and limits the number of doctor visits to ten per year. Hard caps on drugs and services are arbitrary and have no correlation with the needs of beneficiaries and will lead to unnecessary institutionalization and emergency room visits.

    http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/legislature/budget/2011/2011-01-24_Medical.html

  21. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san:

    California is in fiscal crisis and Medicare is obviously a huge part of the problem. I don’t know what the solution is. Obviously, cutting support for people who can’t take care of themselves should be a last resort but I don’t know the state’s budget well enough to say what “fat” there currently is.

    And I’m not saying these people are bums, just that people on public assistance are in a different category than people being taxed to park. They’re completely different problems.

  22. anjin-san says:

    The first thing I would go after in the CA budget is public employee pensions. Grey Davis should be flogged for what he saddled us with. When a public employee retires and starts drawing benefits, that should be it. No more of this, retire, draw a pension, and start working as a contractor six weeks later crap.

    But, our “leaders” always seem to come up with the same answer, let’s cut the poor and helpless. Democrats are not as guilty as Republicans, but they are fishing in the same pond.

    “On the dole” is a derogatory expression. And it’s pretty hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don’t have any legs.