- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. (AP) — In this seaside town, parking meters don’t grant those magical few minutes on someone else’s dime. Each time a car pulls away from a space, the meter automatically resets to zero.

Little is left to chance in the brave new world of parking technology: Meters are triggered by remote sensors, customers pay for street time by cellular phone, and solar-powered vending machines create customized parking plans for the motorist.

Oh, and forget about rubbing the traffic officer’s chalk mark off your tires on the streets of cities where short-term parking is free but overstays are punished by fines.

If you are in Monterey, Calif., or Chicago, you are apt to be foiled by parking officials who drive minicarts outfitted with Global Positioning System-enabled cameras that scan your license plate and know how long a car has occupied the given space.

Coin-operated, single-spaced meters were banished years ago from major metropolises such as New York and Toronto. But smaller cities including Aspen, Colo., and Savannah, Ga., now have ditched them, too.

Advanced parking technologies can lower a city’s operating costs, reduce staffing needs and increase ticketing accuracy, resulting in fewer challenges in traffic court.

Bill Francis, a vice president at the Los Angeles-based Walker Parking Consultants, says technology also can help local officials more smoothly collect on outstanding tickets. For several cities, he said, that added up to $4 million in just five years.

Pacific Grove, a coastal resort town where visitors to the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium and Pebble Beach golf course compete with locals for the few oceanside spaces, went for the gold when it went digital last year.

It installed meters that increase parking fees over time, so that quick errands remain relatively inexpensive but long stays become more costly.

A wire grid under the pavement triggers a sensor whenever a car pulls in. The information can be sent wirelessly via radio signals to traffic enforcers so they know when time expires on any parking spot in town. The meter resets itself as soon as the car pulls away, so the next car has to pay the full fee.

“Today’s meters are little computers,” said Ross Hubbard, a former Pacific Grove City Council member who advocated the switch. The city now leases 100 meters for $45,000 per year from Duncan Parking Technologies Inc.

Not all drivers in Pacific Grove share the official enthusiasm.

Sue Shenkman said she wasn’t happy about shelling out $4 to keep her spot for the fifth hour, after spending $1 for each of the first two hours and $2 for each of the next two.

But she wanted her son to see the aquarium.

“At home, we’re always trying to get someone else’s meter that has a little time on it,” said Mrs. Shenkman, who was visiting from Boston.

For Officer Tony Marino, it’s a question of changing attitudes, showing people the benefits of a system that no longer can be gamed.

“I just wish people would go with the flow,” said Officer Marino, whose three-wheeled cart is the center of the town’s enforcement operation. “I mean, a parking meter is like a restaurant table: We have to turn these things over.”

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