To Reset or Not Reset a Meter


To Reset or Not Reset a Meter

The City of Santa Monica and the City of LA are installing sensors in on street spaces that will reset the parking meter to “0” when the vehicle leave the space. They claim that it is to affect parking policy and not to be used to help enforcement. Right.

I was asked to participate on a radio program last week discussing this issue and listened to caller after caller decrying the new sensors and griping about the new policy.

“It’s a like winning the lottery,” said one caller. “you pick up a few minutes and  you think “wow” a little something good happened today.” Virtually all felt that this was simply a way for the city to ‘grab’ more money.

They also discussed the morality of the situation. A person pays for an hour and leaves after 40 minutes. Why is it wrong for the next person to park for that extra 20 minutes without having to pay?

Its hard to argue with that last statement, however I’ll give it a try. The purpose of metered parking is to create turnover for local merchants. It is to keep residents and workers in the area from taking spots. Rules against “feeding” the meter prevent this type of activity. If one buys the maximum amount of time, then you are enjoined from putting more money in the meter to keep turnover working.

So the ‘reset’ is needed to ensure that we get the proper ‘turnover.’  Fair enough.

However, how about the PR the city gets when the parker gets a few minutes of ‘free’ parking by piggybacking on someone else. It seems to me that this is a small price to pay if we have the technology to allow piggybacking but also ensure turnover.

Say the maximum time allowed to park in an area is two hours. A person buys two hours but leaves after an hour and a half.  The meter will know when the new person arrives and allow them to ‘top up’ the meter only to the two hours from their arrival, not two hours from when the first person’s fee ran out. Rules are followed and everyone, except perhaps the finance director for the city, is happy.

We should remember one other thing, when we change to a pay by credit card meter, most people pay the maximum anyway, whether they plan to stay the maximum time or not. Revenue skyrockets for cities because of this. Other benefits of the new meters is the ‘up’ time and the fact that the meter can notify the city if it is having a problem and can be repaired quickly.  The down time in the city of LA is very low, less than a few hours at most.

Are we really so concerned about every penny that we ‘reset’ the meters. I’m told that after a few weeks complaints about resetting die away and ‘all is right with the world.’ But I wonder…people remember a kinder gentler time when folks put a quarter in a meter to keep a stranger’s car from getting a ticket, or when police warned merchants that the meter patrol was coming so meters could be fed or cars moved.

If a city is so financially tapped out that every little bit needs to be wrung out of the citizenry, isn’t something else wrong? When parking becomes a ‘tax’ instead of a way to affect behavior are we moving in the right or wrong direction?

What do you say, Brandy?


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John Van Horn

9 Responses

  1. The new technology, sensors, credit card meters, kiosk..etc…all cost money. People want these options, but they do not want rates to increase. Pay and display basically has “meter reset” and the increase in revenues help offset the cost. Yes, I know, people pay more when using a credit card, but the way I look at it, that is their choice to ensure they dont get a ticket, they are paying for “peace of mind”. The amount of meters that you will have time left on it to piggy back should decrease over time because pay by cell/app does not leave time on it. In order to have meter reset you need a sensor and at $20-$30 per space/month you need a revenue stream to pay for it. How do we do that, especially in markets were the rate is $1/hr or below? There are only 2 options. Meter reset or increased enforcement because we should become more effective with the sensors.

    You argument of credit card meters skyrocketing revenue is only true with meter reset. If they pay the maximum and only stay a short time, then next car will still use the time that is left. Plus, CC meters are extremely expensive. The LA’s, Philadelphia’s and NYC’s of the world can afford this based on their rates. The little guys have to be a bit more creative to pay for the technology that people see in these big cities and expect everywhere, sometimes its the only way they can afford it. Now this doesn’t mean you just start resetting meters. Engage the community, tell them that meter reset is being used to help pay for the technology, and you may find yourself on right side of a news article…

    I do not think you get good PR by leaving it. You get a little bad PR when you use meter reset, it goes away, but like i said, with a little upfront work, you may find that people are ok with it

  2. CJD hits the nail on the head. This stuff is expensive to buy and operate. Communications costs, credit card fees maintenance, etc. drive operating costs way up. If you want to focus on generating revenue through compliance, you need to make easy and convenient to pay, which means accepting credit cards at all your meters. That reduces your ticket count (and citation revenue), so how do you replace that revenue and cover the increased costs of providing customer service? One way is to reset the meters – and it’s not a few pennies. Industry standard is a 20%-30% increase, which is substantial.

    Depending on your rates, even this level of increase may not be enough to cover the increased operating costs and loss of citation revenues. Just because we’re the government doesn’t mean we have an excuse to completely ignore cost recovery on a major investment. We may have different ROI standards and a different focus on the value of an investment than the private sector, but we also have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers that we ignore at our peril.

    There is typically some bad PR to start, but you can help offset that by telling customers you’re making it easier to pay and less likely they’ll get ticketed. What meter system can you put in, resetting or not, that doesn’t generate some degree of bad PR? Pick your poison.

    1. Good arguments, Charlie and Brandy. However, I’m not convinced on the loss of citation revenue. If we assume that half of the citations that could be written aren’t. (And I think in most cities that number is closer to 90%) then stepping up enforcement could make up for the folks who pay the maximum and thus don’t get citations. Of course in the end, are we here to generate revenue, or to change habits and protect a valuable parking asset?
      We all know that answer — on the record — change habits and protect, off the record — revenue, revenue, revenue.

      1. JVH- So you want me to not have the bad PR with meter reset but increase tickets? That’s even worse PR!

        Actual capture rate is closer to 4-7%, proven by sensors, including the ones i have, and what the sensor company is telling me from other cities.

        We can not turn a blind eye to revenue. Proper programs require proper fiscal responsibility to make sure we can pay for the technology, and to make sure we never spend a single taxpayer penny.

        1. Huh! I’m not saying you increase your number of citations written, just keep the number the same. Even though people will perhaps pay the full fee when they park only part of the time allowed, there will be certainly many others who will break parking rules.

          And YES, parking needs to pay for itself and if the technology used costs more, then more needs to be collected. However we both know that in well run parking operations, the income far exceeds the costs. Where does that money go? Does it go into the neighborhoods where it came from for better lighting, streets, and sidewalks? Or does it go into the general fund? What happens in State College, Charlie?

  3. Yes, we want to stop piggybacking for the money, which is a common practice. Many rent and lease agreements are non-transferable, as are most tickets to events. You can’t finish someone else’s meal at a restaurant (ok now I’m reaching). The nice thing about multi-space is that the piggybacking goes away automatically. Politicians can call it an unintended consequence. With single-space you need to take the extra steps (and costs) of adding sensors, so you appear greedy – like the airlines charging for leg room and luggage. Why do they do it? The same reason we’ll reset the meters – because we can.

  4. In State College it goes to the GF. We do not ear mark funds and I will try to explain why. Many of our Capital Plan Projects and most of our normal operating expenses can be directly attributed to the downtown. BUT our tax revenue mainly comes from our neighborhoods. That is because our tax base in the downtown is mostly non-income students. We far outspend our tax and parking revenues that are generated from the downtown. Basically, parking revenues go right back int the downtown. I just cant tell you that it was for a specific light project or sidewalk project. Make sense?

    So in my view, although we do not specifically say parking is spent on the lights and streets, it is, as it should be.

    This is where I disagree with Shoup. His model works great in larger cities where they can be “districts” and the money that is generated in District A can stay in District A and not spent in Districts B-F. I only have one district.

    To Daves Comment- If you are getting the sensors solely for the purpose of meter reset, then I agree with you 1000%, that it is greedy. I am testing 50 sensors right now, and have been for a year. The information that I get from them is golden. The information gives me the ability to speak with facts and not maybes, or “industry assumptions”. You should see the look on peoples faces when I tell them that 34% of people never drop a quarter, or we only “catch” 5.6% of violators, or that our occupancy rate is 69% between 9am-12, 78% between noon and 3, and 98% after 6pm. When I am trying to convince businesses that it is in thier best interest to have the meters enforced until 10pm(instead of 6pm, hence the 98% occupancy), this information is key. I see a value to that, that is why I have sensors, plus the added options for the customers to pay. But the customers can get the same options to pay through pay by cell, at no cost to me. The only real revenue increase that can be attributed to sensors is meter reset.

    Now lets get to the bigger question after all is said and done- If you could increase revenues by 20% by using meter reset, and the public understood that the money goes towards paying for the technology and for capital projects, do you think that would change their minds? It goes back to educating the public BEFORE you institute the reset.

  5. I have two problems with the Policy of meter reset.

    The first is that parking sensors are not very reliable. If they are magnetometer sensors, they could be thrown off by a large metal dumpster or double-parked garbage truck. So you could have some “resets” occurring for a whole variety of reasons other than the fact the driver moves her car. Let’s do some math. Assume that parking sensors are 99% reliable, they are not, but lets give the sensor manufacturers the the benefit of the doubt. In a big city like LA with 40k meters that say, average three sessions per day, you have 120k daily sessions. At a 1% error rate you are talking about 1,200 parkers potentially exposed to tickets. Every day. Now my numbers may be way off, and most cities have very low capture rates so the wrongful tickets ought to be low. But still. Talk about bad PR.

    Which brings me to my second point. In the mind of Jane Q. Parker, reset policies tend to get lumped together with market pricing for on-street parking. Both get seen as a ‘bad’ policy. SFpark explicitly eschewed a reset policy as a way to demonstrate to the public that the City was trying to apply market principals to on-street parking, rather than try to screw drivers.

    Given Santa Monica’s decision to implement a reset policy, I think that they will have a tougher time trying to implement market pricing down the road. And, that is a real shame.

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