One wouldn’t expect a short article on parking revenue, such as Patrick Anderson’s in yesterday’s Providence Journal, to be so fascinating, but I can’t shake a couple of ideas. The first is that we aren’t being told something about how fancy new digital meters will actually increase money for the City of Providence. Oddly, that’s the headline of the article, but it’s drawn mainly from the very last paragraph:
The new meters take credit cards, which England said encourages people to buy longer parking times, and they feature flashing red lights that make it easier to see when they are expired. The new meters can also be programmed remotely for higher rates during events or periods of peak demand.
So bright lights start flashing when the meters run out (how lovely), which presumably can alert both car owners and meter officers and are connected remotely. I wonder: Will they also send notices to enforcement officers when the clock runs out? Given modern technology, the system could automatically create a GPS map calculating the shortest path to hit every car that’s currently out of time, with self-printing tickets. Now that would be a revenue generator.
The second thought that nags around the edges of the article comes from the bulk of the city’s complaints — namely, the millions of dollars in unpaid fines. Fines are supposed to be a tool of enforcement, but one gets the sense that the government thinks of them first as a source of revenue, and the per-vehicle profit from a fine is many times that of a typical instance of legal parking. In that regard, the government has incentive to trip people up.
Perhaps the uniting discussion that demands recollection concerns the purpose of meters. The reason government gets into this business — I thought — is to manage the limited amount of parking available on public roads, not simply to make money. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason digital meters couldn’t simply keep a running tab on the driver’s credit card and even send a warning text when a maximum period of time approaches. Those two variables — time and cost — would give officials room to manage traffic to suit the needs of the area.
Of course, they wouldn’t allow for favoritism or the windfall of getting people to break the law and bring big fines on their heads.