Human or Parking Meter: Which is Smarter?


Dear Parking Guru,

We recently paid for two hours of parking - from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the smart meter accepted payment for that amount of time.  However, when we returned at 3:30 p.m., the car was gone.  It was towed – and it was only then that we saw that there was a posted parking restriction sign.  Parking is disallowed between 3:00 p.m. and 7 p.m.

It would seem this is an inherent contradiction/conflict.  The smart meter records the time, allocates a block of time and accepts payment for block of time that conflicts with a posted parking limit.

Any insight or guidance would be helpful.


Out of Luck


Dear Out of Luck,

Sorry to hear about you getting towed.  My understanding of and experience with smart meters is that they are programmed to not accept an electronic payment past the maximum time allowed, nor past the restricted allowable time in that zone (3 p.m. in your case).  If I were a betting man, and I am, I would wager that you believed that you paid for 2 hours of time, but in actuality only paid for 1.5 hours.

I can think of two simple ways for you to deduce whether your vehicle getting towed was due to a mechanical, programming, or user error.

1. Return to the scene of the crime and see if the proper allowable times are posted on the meter itself.

If the meter doesn’t list the proper times allowed, then you have a legitimate argument, as the posted information was not correct. 

However, if there is a sign within 100 feet of that meter that states “No parking between 3PM-7PM”, then your case still holds water, but now has a moderate sized leak in it. 

 2. If the meter does in fact have the proper times posted on it, find out how much that meter charges per hour and do some simple math to see if it is a programming error.

Let’s say it is $4.00 per hour. You state that you parked at 1:30 PM and wanted to park for two hours and the meter accepted payment for 2 hours until 3:30 PM…half an hour past the restricted time.  If it’s like you say, you should have been charged $8.00.  If that’s true, then the meter has been incorrectly programmed.

If your credit card statement shows that you were charged $6.00, then the meter properly charged you for $1.5 hours and was indeed programmed properly and is functioning properly. Look at your credit card statement and see which it was.  

If you paid with coins, then go to that meter at 3:00 PM and see if it accepts payment past 3 PM.  If programmed and functioning properly, it will not display any time.  And you will lose your 25 cents.  You may have put in enough quarters to pay for the conceptual two hours, but it actually only gave you 1.5 hours.

Good Luck.  Let us know how it turns out.

On a final note, If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard, “But I was only parked there for 2 minutes…” I would be a very wealthy man. So for those of you who take a chance and don’t put a quarter in the meter or bother to pay by phone or with a card, because you will only be gone for “two minutes”, consider this; the price of getting towed…2000 quarters. 

David LaBua is the author of Finding the Sweet Spot, founder of VoicePark, and a leader in the sustainable urban mobility movement.  Follow David @ParkingGuru on twitter.

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