I periodically get a call from someone or other who thinks that because I write about parking and have my picture in the magazine every month that I actually know something about it. More the fool them. They are usually representing some unknown company who is attempting to enter the US parking market and trying to find out whether or not they should. They are being paid many thousands of dollars to get this information. If the company that uses it guesses wrong, they could lose a lot. In this case, the topic was on street.
Q: The first question – Various cities (Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, (and about 10 more) are rumored to be considering leasing out their on street parking. Is this true?
A: I'm not sure of any of those listed except Chicago, that has already done it, and LA, that has a RFQ on the street, but my best guess is that many cities, looking for a quick infusion of cash, are looking at this technique to get some. However, I'm not sure how germane the question is to your understanding of the market.
Q: Well, if private industry comes in, wouldn't they want to replace equipment?
A: Most likely, but wouldn't a city want to replace aging equipment anyway?
Q: But cities have budget problems and can't afford new equipment. Right?
A: Well, I can understand them perhaps putting off the replacement of a fire truck or that new fleet of police cars for a year or two, or maybe not funding the Mayor's new carpeting, but if the existing equipment is keeping them from raising parking fees, and new equipment, which can be paid for in less than a year with the fee increases and will bring millions of additional dollars into the city's coffers, is all that is standing between them and a lot of money, then it would seem that even the most parsimonious city could look favorably on such a plan.
Q: How does replacing equipment put money in the city's coffers?
A: In the US, we are a paper currency based society. The largest coin we have in general use is worth 25 cents. Therefore meters that take coins can't really be set to take more than about $1 per hour. So if the proper rate is $3 or $4 per hour, it takes 12 or 16 quarters to meet the hour's rate. There are two problems. Most people don't carry 12 quarters with them, and the meter vaults fill up fast. Look what happened in Chicago – the meters filled up faster than they could empty them and all hell broke loose. Cities know that if they are going to raise the rates, and if they are going to institute a proper pricing policy, varying the price based on time, day, market rates, and the like, they need a different technology than the one typically found on streets today. They will need a device that takes banknotes, credit and or debit cards, or whatever.
Q: Oh, how many spaces are there currently covered by some type of meter in the US?
A: No clue.
Q: I heard it was between 2,000,000 and 8,000,000
A: That sounds about right – however my guess is that no matter how many there are today, that as cities continue to look for revenue, more spaces will become controlled and more equipment will be needed.
Q: Wow, never thought of that – People tell me that there is a disconnect between software and hardware in the on street side. There is not much software available that runs the entire on street parking system – citations, meter revenue, collections, and enforcement? I guess the suppliers have fallen down on this. Right?
A: No. The main issue is that there is a missing link in the process: Monitoring of individual spaces. If you don't know whether or not a car is in the space, having the rest of the information is good, but not great. There are systems that handle citation writing and collections, and systems that monitor individual meters (Single space, P and D, P by Space, etc) but they can't tell you if there is a car there and whether it is in violation. Most of these pieces of equipment are made by different companies and it's a heavy task to pull all them together under one system. It's being done, however monitoring is in its infancy. I tell people that 90% of all violations are never cited. That means that since spaces aren't monitored, we don't know when a car is in violation and needs a citation except by wandering around and looking. Since parking rules aren't enforced in most cases, people don't pay every time, and much revenue is lost. If spaces are monitored and stats can be gained as to where scofflaws are hanging out, the rules can be more evenly enforced, more money collected, and people will begin to follow the rules, and all will be right with the parking world.
Q: How many of the meters mentioned above will be replaced soon?
A: All of them in the next decade.
Q: Huh – no one else I asked would tell me that. How do you know?
A: I don't know, OK maybe 85 or 90%. I guess that if the useful life of most equipment is 10 years, and that by replacing equipment a city can do two things. If it can greatly increase its revenue by upping rates and replace aging technology it had to replace anyway, then most of the equipment you see on street today will be replaced in the next 10 years with something.
Q: Thanks – you are the first person I have spoken with that gave me straight answers.
I received some additional information. It seems that there are just over one million spaces that are monitored by parking meters on street. The five million number may include off street spaces controlled by cities or on street that are monitored (maximum stay 2 hours) but not by equipment.
My source also commented that my 10 year life cycle is about right and used the example of how many ten year old PCs are running today. Technology moves on.