Parking Technology ... for the Rest of Us
I live in a big city, so I get to try plenty of parking technology. My favorite is no technology – it’s the free and always available spot in my driveway. That spot doesn’t follow me around, so here are my thoughts on the parking technology I encounter regularly:
Coin meters: The “old faithful” of parking technology I use one of these at least twice a week in my town and surrounding cities. I rarely have any trouble with the meters themselves, but the signage is another matter. The technology is sound, the regulations are cryptic. Also, I never have enough change.
Credit card-capable meters: My city installed them less than two years ago in an area where there is also enough free parking for my needs, so I don’t use them often. When I do, the credit card capability is a huge help (see mention of coin shortage, above), and usage is straightforward. I feel silly when I see a $2.50 parking meter charge on my credit card statement, but that’s because I’ve always thought credit cards were meant for large purchases. I’m getting over that.
Space-counting garages: Once a month, I visit the nearby mall where glowing signs tell me how many parking spots are available on each floor. This is a fantastic tool, though it doesn’t seem necessary in a small garage. I’ve seen these in other garages that are bigger and more convoluted than the one where I live, and they are helpful in those settings, too, but they don’t ease my confusion about the layout of the garage itself.
Pay-by-space machines: I don’t avoid these like I used to, but I still wonder if they are going to work, if I’m going to be able to figure out how to use them, and if I’m going to be able to understand the rules as described. These machines are different everywhere I go, and because they are more complicated to use than a meter, they never seem familiar.
Pay-on-entry garages: This is another parking technology I use regularly. These are easy. Lines on the way in and out are never a problem. I’m likely to drop my money in the evil crevice between the kiosk and my car, but that’s my problem.
Pay-on-foot garages: I rarely use these, mainly because there aren’t any in my rotation. If I had to use one regularly, I might get used to the confusion of arriving in a car but paying on-foot. I find it counterintuitive and usually unforgiving. If I forget to pay for parking on the way back to my car, the service attendant has to walk away from his stand to do it for me; or worse: I have to get out of my car, while other drivers stack up behind me, and find the kiosk myself.
Cars with back-up cameras: This is a great invention. I’m still driving a 2009 Toyota Highlander that requires me to look around when I reverse, and that’s OK, because I have good range of motion. My family recently rented a car with this capability, and we had a good experience. The kids were uninterested, but I watched the screen attentively every time my husband put the car in reverse, and he did the same for me. It took both of us a few tries to learn to trust the camera and adjust speed and turning to match the difference in visual input, but it worked well.
There are few parking technologies I have read about, but haven’t experienced in real life.
Stackable parking structures: Some places call them lifts. Some call them carousels. Others call them auto-stackers. I caught a glimpse of one once in Manhattan and was fascinated. I’d try it, though I don’t see the opportunity presenting itself, and I’m concerned the cost would be way over my budget.
Autonomous vehicles: OK, this isn’t exactly a parking option, but it’s a frequent subject in Parking Today, so I’ll put it on my list. I’ve never been inside an autonomous vehicle. I’ve never even seen an autonomous vehicle. I hear they will do serious damage to the parking industry, but I have my doubts. They are supposed to change the world by reducing traffic, eliminating accidents and disappearing in a puff of purple smoke when they are not in use. My children will think they’re great, but most people my age want their own cars. I’d try it, but I’d still want my own car. I want to drive it, and I want to park it myself.
Self-parking vehicles: Of the technologies I haven’t tried yet, this one boggles my mind the most. I can’t envision the widespread use of stackers and autonomous vehicles, though I’m glad to attribute that inability to a lack of imagination. But I have seen self-parking vehicles in action. The idea of letting my car negotiate itself into a parallel parking spot is like the notion of letting my nonstick pan make me a fried egg. I hear these cars do do their jobs well, and the number of people I know who say they can’t parallel park justify their existence. But I’m not ready to turn over that much power to something I still regard as a giant lump of metal.