Parking meters

High-tech payment methods fine, but why not promote the ability to ‘pay it forward’?

The little things in life can be the most gratifying and the most annoying. The city of Durango should take that into account as it shops for new parking meters. The convenience of new ways to pay for parking will not be so welcome if it is accompanied by a restriction on our ability to give and enjoy one of life’s modest pleasures.

The meters the city is talking about buying sound like weatherproof iPads. Not only will they take credit cards, but also prepaid “smart cards” almost like gift cards. (Then again, perhaps the city could sell them as gift cards. It would be the perfect stocking-stuffer for anyone who would rather not carry the 30 quarters it will take to max out a 10-hour meter at the new rate.)

With multiple payment options, the new meters do sound more convenient. They might even be able to send a ping to drivers’ smart phones to alert them when their time is about to expire.

But technology can be taken too far, and there is at least one option the city should forego.

Smart meters installed in parts of Denver can sense when a car parked in their space pulls away. With that, they cannot be “fed” more money to extend the time a car can be parked there, presumably at least not without moving the car away and then back into the same space.

More to the point, though, when the car is moved the meter reverts to zero – regardless of how much money had been paid or how much time was left on the meter. That nixes what may be the only civilized – and civilizing – quality associated with parking meters.

Pulling into a parking space to find there is time on the meter is one of life’s pivotal little things. It is a minor victory to be sure, but a win nonetheless. Catching just that kind of small break can brighten a morning or take the edge off a grumpy day.

It works both ways. Drivers who know they really are going to be just a minute or two face the prospect of either risking a pricey parking ticket or paying an effective rate of as much as $15 per hour to park.

It does not feel like so much of a loss knowing that the quarter that machine just ate was not wasted, but that someone else in the community can use those paid-for minutes. It is like waving on the other car at the intersection or holding the door for someone at a shop. It is the kind of minor pleasantry that can have a cumulative effect beyond its immediate measure.

There is no such warmth to making what amounts to a donation to City Hall. That is nothing more than an infuriating reminder of why people hate parking meters.

Why not buck the trend? Instead of seeing parking essentially as a way to mug our neighbors, why not promote it as a way to show our neighborliness? Every city has parking meters and writes tickets. There is nothing noteworthy or even interesting in that.

Why not be different and offer a municipal promotion of something along the lines of “pay-it-forward parking” to encourage people to leave a little time on the meter?

Becoming known for random acts of parking kindness might not be a bad reputation for a tourist town. It would be unusual and pleasantly positive. An appropriate slogan might even work on the city’s “Welcome to Durango” signs.

In any event, it would be better marketing than the image of a Denver boot.