Meter’s Expired


Meter’s Expired

Editor’s note: The following is a graduate student paper written by an Xavier University MBA student. Although his research may be a bit limited, the background in parking meter history and his discussion of the evolution of technology are of interest.

Oklahoma, the mid-America embodiment of rugged individualism, cultivated the birth of modern-day items such as the shopping cart and the “Yield” sign. Its burgeoning growth as an agricultural and industrial center in the 1930s witnessed the rise of Tulsa and Oklahoma City. During this decade, approximately 550,000 automobiles were registered within its boundaries, of which 10 percent were in Oklahoma City itself.
Downtown Oklahoma City workers were notorious for parking their cars on bustling central core arteries. Frustrated merchants needed the space available for the convenience of shoppers. Carlton Magee, the director of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, is credited with developing the first parking meter as a means to induce parking space turnover and to nudge office workers to park at peripheral sites, thereby allowing the city to capture the perceived value of parking near the shopper’s destination.
Magee created the Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter Co., with factories in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, to provide meters to municipalities nationwide. Driver resistance erupted in Texas and Alabama through the defacing of meters. The opening scene of the movie “Cool Hand Luke” features Luke Jackson cutting meters from their posts in a sleepy Southern town, in protest of the municipal measurement of time. The winds of change did roll off the Oklahoma plains.
The Rise and Rebirth of the Central City
As cities and towns recognized the revenue stream that meters generated, they also incurred costs for their purchase and maintenance. Initially, users deposited coins into meters to purchase periods of time. After paying, the customer turned a side-mounted surface lever that moved the coins into the meter’s base and set the timing mechanism, which reflected the amount of time purchased. Meters were subjected to damage from vandalism and accidental events.
After World War II, American cities experienced a middle-class exodus to the suburbs. Low-interest government housing loans, suburban shopping centers with “free” parking, the rise of the interstate highway system and social unrest in the inner core spurred this migration. Downtowns suffered as their retail base collapsed, left with low-income and elderly residents who strained city coffers. Despite population drains, urban infrastructure reflected the movement of automobiles.
Parking garages recognized the high cost of urban land, therefore enabling more cars to park per square foot of land. Universities and hospitals augmented surface-level parking with garages, both above and below ground. The congestion of motorists called for more automation and the application of technology and information systems to better coordinate the flow of traffic.
Downtown Responds to Suburban Competition
During the 1980s, cyclical patterns began to swing back toward favoring downtowns as places to do business. City governments began massive urban renovations to entice suburbanites to the inner core and to erase the failed, bland urban renewal attempts of the 1960s. As more cars streamed into the inner cities, parking demands increased for commuters attending sports events, concerts and festivals. Cities began developing suburbanized shopping centers downtown, including St. Louis, Indianapolis, Columbus, OH, and Charleston, WV. Parking facilities were designed to expedite traffic flow to and from the city.
Technology Solutions to Capture Revenue — The Elimination of ‘Piggybacking’
Pay-by-space allows the user to pay for the numbered space the car occupies. Pay-and-display replaces up to 20 meters and provides a ticket for the user to display on the car’s dashboard. This method eliminates the process of “piggybacking,” in which a driver occupies a space whose meter still displays remaining time from its previous occupant, allowing municipalities to capture formerly lost revenue.
The pay terminals are constructed to impede vandalism and tolerate temperatures ranging from minus-30 degrees to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. They also supercede coin meters by accepting dollars, credit cards and smart cards. The terminals may be set remotely to reflect different prices, based upon anticipated demand. This allows municipalities to capitalize on supply and demand concepts, increasing rates during non-workday times.
Progressive Portland Pioneers
In the forefront of adopting pay terminals, Portland, OR, continues its progressive approach to transportation solutions. During a five-month period ending Jan. 31, 2003, after installation of pay terminals throughout the downtown core, parking receipts increased 45 percent over the same period for the previous year, from an average of $4.12 to $5.96 daily per space. Ellis McCoy, the city’s parking operations manager, cited fewer inoperable meters, allowing the city to capture added revenue.
Baltimore updated its parking garage payment system utilizing online registration and payment processes. Garage parkers use automated payment systems, shifting former collection-booth cashiers to greeter-attendant roles, embodying Baltimore’s move to customer-focused
In addition, Baltimore is the first American city to utilize “operator-assisted reservation service.” Mobile Parking developed the system, which allows drivers in or nearing the city of Baltimore to dial a toll-free number to locate and reserve the parking spot nearest the driver’s destination. This customer-focused service reduces frustrating open-meter and garage searches, reducing stress and enhancing the driver’s experience.
Seattle will install nearly 1,600 pay stations within the next three years. The city anticipates successfully duplicating Portland’s implementation of the new system, replacing coins with smart cards. The city expects each pay station to replace up to seven meters, providing enhanced parking solutions for its users.
Less Innovative Approaches
While central pay terminals are blazing a new path to improved parking management, one Kentucky city is pursuing a slower course. Newport’s downtown Monmouth Street has grown popular as a parking refuge. Facing riverfront attractions, the street’s absence of meters leads to Oklahoma City’s problems of nearly 70 years ago. Downtown merchants complain that prime spots are occupied by long-term users, riding shuttles to Cincinnati ballgames and avoiding the parking charges in Ohio. Newport is studying the placement of traditional coin-operated meters to encourage turnover. As traditional coin meters fall from favor, replacement parts will become harder to obtain, possibly forcing premature obsolescence on Newport’s planned meter installation.
Enhanced Citations
Though traditional meters and central pay terminals regulate parking space turnover and payment, parking citations remain as another source of revenue for cities, penalizing those drivers who fail to pay or allow the meter to “expire.” Thirty-three municipalities in New Jersey are equipped with hand-held computers that allow parking enforcement agents, while entering current infractions, to access a centralized database to determine if illegally parked cars have other citations issued against them. In essence, violations are issued in real time.
Parking Garages: Challenges and Opportunities
Though Cincinnati installed its first parking meter in 1941, responding to downtown business demands for controlling street parking, the city is the site of the first mechanical garage, opened nine years before its first meter. The garage, razed in 1979, accommodated approximately 400 autos, using an elevator system to move cars to one of 24 levels. Mechanical garages proved more popular in Europe and Asia, as America had more available land for parking.
Rensselaer University students have developed technology that places sensors in parking spots that feed a spot’s status to a display terminal at the test lot’s entrance. This identifies available spaces for the driver, alleviating the frustration of searching for open stalls. Such self-park facilities reduce stress and anxiety and contour oversight.
Garage Automation
Technological applications have automated the original cumbersome process. This combines “computerization with mechanical lifts, pallets and carriers to park and retrieve cars in multilevel modular garages.” The design allows for simultaneous retrieval and acceptance of vehicles, eliminating parking attendants.
Whisking and retrieving cars automatically throughout its multilevel design reduces the risk of theft and vandalism. Furthermore, the technology maximizes the garages’ resources. Drivers pull onto pallets that are conveyed through computer-directed processes to available slots. Users retrieve their cars through entering their “parking checks,” which direct the system to deliver the car to the user within 120 seconds. The system can be accessed remotely, allowing a central management station to monitor numerous operations at once.
Faster Solutions to Increased Parking Demands
These systems provide great flexibility, in that their structure involves no concrete. Their component construction is performed expeditiously off-site. Additionally, their modular design can be enlarged in less time than conventional garages, allowing for quicker response to market demands.
One technology uses sensors in its automated garages to measure a car’s dimensions before it enters a labyrinth of parking spaces. The design accommodates from 40 to 2,000 spaces.
Addressing Parking Terrorism
The 1993 terrorist attack on New York City’s World Trade Center towers involved detonated explosives in garages underneath the structures. To address the new reality of domestic terrorism, the federal government is installing new technology to help safeguard its complexes from similar future strikes. A Cambridge, MA-based company has developed an Automated Vehicle Identification and Screening Technology (AVISTA) system. AVISTA weighs front and rear vehicle axles, checking the car’s standard weight against its actual weight, possibly identifying explosives.
Additionally, AVISTA can record a vehicle’s image and scan its license plates, as well as utilize wireless communications to alert security employees and to access databases that determine vehicle legitimacy. Tags trigger a video camera that scans the car and checks it against a database and performs other functions simultaneously. Recommendation for access or denial occurs within two seconds.
The Future of Parking
Every business has a life cycle of birth, growth, maturation, decline and eventual death. As the automobile is ultimately phased out, as new personal transportation business models are created, central terminal stations and multilevel garages will become as archaic as a stagecoach stop in the Mojave Desert in the 1870s. Regardless, technological advances in parking are currently harvesting greater yields from updated processes. The implementation of parking technology, in the short run, adds to the urban experience, replacing unsightly meters with central terminal pay stations that accept a variety of payment methods.
Opportunities produce an opportunist, such as Oklahoma’s Carlton Magee, to capture revenue wherever value is recognized. Though the life spans of the parking meter, central pay terminal and garage sensors will face extinction in the long run, their enhancement adds to the current experience of urban drivers and increased revenue collection for municipal coffers.
Plato said that “time is the moving image of eternity.” Despite the eventual demise and irrelevance of parking infrastructure and technology, there remains the eternal value of space and time.

John Anderson researches the variety store industry and urban renewal issues. He is a graduate student at Xavier University in Cincinnati, pursuing an MBA in finance. Contact him at

Anderson’s professor, Mark N. Frolick is the Western & Southern Financial Chair of Information Systems at Xavier University. His specialties include data warehousing, executive information systems, e-business, cycle time reduction, systems analysis and design, and the diffusion of information
technology in organizations. He can be reached at

Article contributed by:
John Anderson
Only show results from:

Recent Articles

Send message to

    We use cookies to monitor our website and support our customers. View our Privacy Policy