Technology Metes Out Parking Meter Justice

A friend of mine once interrupted a presentation to his company's board of directors to run outside and move his car because he was running ...
by | February 20, 2008


A friend of mine once interrupted a presentation to his company's board of directors to run outside and move his car because he was running out of time on his parking meter. Such is life for many commuters in Washington, D.C., where two-hour time limits at most of the city's roughly 16,000 meters are strictly enforced.

Some commuters try to beat the system by simply adding more coins to the meters without moving their vehicles to new spots. That's not exactly legal, but unless an eagle-eyed meter enforcement person notices, you can get away it sometimes. And some people find that the occasional $25 parking ticket is still cheaper over time than the $10- to $20-per-day it can cost to pay for a spot in a lot near one's office.

Those people probably read with dread a story in yesterday's Washington Post about the city's plans to deploy new technology aimed at making it easier to identify and ticket any car that has overstayed its welcome at a particular meter. The District's Department of Public Works is testing several imaging systems that will watch "meter feeders," the newspaper reported, describing the systems as looking like something right out of a "Ghostbusters" movie:

    "One array, mounted on a sport-utility vehicle, has been getting double takes around town in recent days. The vehicle bristles with four cameras, two lasers and a global positioning dome.

    "The equipment is typically mounted on vans or SUVs that cruise along a street recording license numbers and car locations. A later sweep turns up cars overstaying the time restrictions in metered or unmetered zones, officials say.

    "Another system under evaluation does the same task by recording vehicle size, shape and color instead of license plates."

Other cities are experimenting with high-tech meter-reading too. Last year, Governing's Josh Goodman wrote about a similar system that was being deployed in Chicago.

And police elsewhere are looking at license-plate-reading tools for other purposes. NY1, an all-news channel in New York City, recently aired a report about a $106 million counter-terrorism initiative that will deploy license-plate-reading cameras on vehicles and at fixed spots all over Lower Manhattan. As NY1's Solana Pyne reported, some civil liberty groups are less than thrilled about that idea.

As for the comparison of the D.C. system to a Ghostbusters vehicle, you can compare a picture of the ghoul-chasers' souped-up Cadillac with this Post photo of one of city's test vehicles and make up your own mind. (Ghostmobile image link care of CNet's gadget blog, Crave. Parking meter image above care of the Bean and Bee blog.)