A Cleaner Meter?

No Meter At All.


APRIL, 2020

Cleanliness has become a new national obsession. And for good reason, as arresting the spread of COVID-19 and “flattening the curve” requires both sanitary diligence and social distance. Yet as people adopt these new preventative measures, the technology we rely upon often lags behind. In the case of parking meters, perhaps too far behind to keep pace.

Significant shifts in parking demand during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many communities across the country to suspend ticketing and towing, allowing parking meters to sit idle—sacrificing valuable revenue at a time in which communities need money most. While this may at first appear to be an altruistic measure (“the parking’s on the house”) it’s in fact partially rooted in cleanliness—parking meters are germ-laden physical constructs, and the expense of keeping them sanitized isn’t practical.

How dirty are parking meters? Using a device commonly employed to monitor sanitary conditions, hygienists in a recent study found that 40% of parking meters tested had levels of contaminates that exceeded acceptable levels, making parking meters nearly as “dirty” as such things as crosswalk buttons and ATM screens. In a similar 2019 study, New York city parking meters were found to have a “cleanliness score” that rated worse than the public bathrooms at Penn Station.

There is little question that parking meters are hotbeds for contaminants. So what can be done about it? Communities like Berkeley, California have long required city parking attendants to clean, scrub and scrape their approximately 2,500 meters on a weekly basis. Amidst our current pandemic, Berkley’s cleaning schedule remains weekly; the additional expense and respective manpower a more concerted effort would require simply isn’t possible to introduce on such short notice. So while cleaning helps, it’s a piecemeal solution at best.

A recent study found that 40% of parking meters tested had levels of contaminates that exceeded acceptable levels, making parking meters nearly as “dirty” as such things as crosswalk buttons and ATM screens.

Parking meters have existed for over 85 years. During that span, advances in parking meter technology—from the creation of the multi-meter to the rollout of solar-powered units—have occurred. Yet even the most modern parking meters still require direct human interaction (touch) to function. This makes parking meters an archaic outlier among the increasingly touchless landscape.

The current pandemic aside, evidence that parking meters have become outdated over the years abounds. There are currently nearly five million metered parking spaces in the United States, and many still employ meters not dissimilar to the very first one, introduced in 1935. City planners and residents detest the sidewalk space they monopolize. The expense to keep them functioning is prohibitive at best. And from an aesthetic standpoint, even the most sleek and contemporary units are not what anyone would consider attractive.

Parking sensors embedded beneath parking spaces can replace outdated meters, and provide a wide range of benefits above and beyond collecting money for the use of the space. Measuring occupancy rates can enable communities to better plan, expand and streamline their city streets, benefitting local merchants and businesses. Meter-less sensors allows drivers to find parking far faster via the use of an app on their preferred device, reducing (if not eliminating) circling and driving around hunting for a spot. Parking enforcement becomes simpler for communities, as they’re notified in real-time of infractions, and can enforce them without circling the city. Traffic becomes smoother and CO2 emissions are reduced in the process. And yes, without the need to touch a parking meter, drivers, parking enforcement and all parties involved reduce the transmission of germs.  

When this pandemic subsides, it’s safe to say that all of us will be facing a new and unprecedented reality. Many will see it as an opportunity to modernize and leave unnecessary conventions of the past behind. When that time arrives, one thing has become clear for the future of parking: A better, safer, and more profitable future awaits.

For many reasons beyond the potential spread of germs, it’s time for communities to say goodbye to physical parking meters of yore.

They will not be missed.

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