- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — The meter maid is being automated by a system in Fredericksburg that allows police officers to ticket violators without leaving their patrol cars.

The system is called AutoChalk. It uses video, laser and GPS technology to replace parking attendants who traditionally have used chalk to mark the tires of vehicles whose owners feed the meter.

The system also will track violators who have wiped chalk marks from their tires, moved their cars a few inches or benefited from rainy days. Tickets will be mailed to violators.

The system likely will be implemented in Fredericksburg in July.

As an unexpected result, the demise of the walking enforcement officer is being lamented.

“It’s not in keeping with the historic feel of what our downtown area is,” said Kyle Snyder, owner of a wine and gourmet food shop.

Council member Hashmel C. Turner Jr. voted against the $100,000 system, which was approved by a narrow vote, because he is concerned about added costs if the equipment fails.

Mr. Turner agrees that AutoChalk could change the atmosphere of downtown Fredericksburg.

“We want ambassadors on the street to deal with our tourists, give them directions and things,” he said. “It’s better to have a smiling, breathing face.”

Mayor Thomas J. Tomzak said the system is targeted at downtown employees who hog parking spaces. It is also a way to encourage people to use the city’s underused parking deck.

As for tourists, the mayor said, AutoChalk can be programmed so tourists and other people who live outside certain ZIP codes are not ticketed.

Police Chief David W. Nye said violators will first be given a warning. He hopes the City Council will enact escalating fines, and he wants to add software that will better identify repeat offenders who have not paid fines. Their vehicles are subject to being outfitted with metal boots that make the vehicles impossible to drive.

Mr. Tomzak thinks AutoChalk will save on personnel costs, can do the job faster and can be easily employed in other parts of the city, such as near the University of Mary Washington.

Some critics also wonder about false positives — in which a car resembling one that had been parked in the same spot earlier can be ticketed.

Bill Franklin, president of Tannery Creek Systems Inc., AutoChalk’s manufacturer, said the digital-recognition, laser and GPS software is very accurate. Two photos are taken of each vehicle, including one of the license plate, and officials can zoom in on photos back at police headquarters.

“Statistically, it’s highly unlikely it’s a different car,” he said.

Even Frank Valdivia thinks the system will be an improvement. While the parking attendant said he enjoys talking it up during his rounds, he said “you can’t stop progress.”

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