Aug 95

Level of Gvt: local

Function: Parking

Problem/Situation: Municipalities confronting budget cuts and parking problems need more effective parking meters.

Solution: Ten municipalities are testing an intelligent parking meter system that could increase revenue and track parking patterns.

Jurisdiction: New York City, New Hope Borough, Pa.

Vendors: Intelligent Devices Inc.

Contact: Vincent Yost 610/584-8830

By Jezra Largman

Special to Government Technology

A woman leaves a downtown shopping mall to plug her parking meter. She reaches her car at the same time as a parking enforcement officer, who was attracted by a red light flashing inside the meter. The women tries to explains that the time just expired, but the meter says different - the time expired 15 minutes ago.

Annoyed, the woman takes the ticket, waits for the officer to leave, and puts additional coins into the expired meter. The meter takes the coins but does not allot more time. She hits the meter a few times, but no luck. Then she notices that the car behind her is preparing to leave and there is still an hour remaining on the meter.

As the other vehicle leaves, she backs into the open space. But when she gets out, the remaining hour has disappeared from the meter. The woman has no choice but to deposit more coins. She has met the intelligent meter - although she might call it something else entirely.

WHY INTELLIGENT METERS?

Parking meters serve two important functions: they bring in revenue, and they help free up parking spaces. But standard parking meters have their weaknesses. Motorists park on leftover time, and feed the meter after expiration, clogging parking spaces and cutting revenue.

Over the last few years, cities that want to avoid raising taxes but are in need of additional income have begun to replace mechanical meters with more efficient electronic counterparts. A number of municipalities are testing these new electronic meters, one of which is a "smart" parking meter system created by Intelligent Devices Inc., of Harleysville, Pa.

Noted as one of the most aggressive meters to hit the streets, the smart meter looks like a standard mechanical meter but, rather than a wind-up motor, it contains two lithium-powered computer chips and a microprocessor with an infrared sensor. The new meter has so far been celebrated by city officials and condemned by motorists.

It can count and monitor every car that parks in the space, track coins, display how long a car has been at an expired meter, and can be programmed to allot any set amount of time. And, as the woman discovered, it erases unused time and refuses to allow parking beyond the expiration time.

TRACKING PARKING PATTERNS

In addition to raising revenues and helping turn over parking spaces, such meters can also track parking patterns. Rather than have employees survey parking, the new meter does it faster and at a lower cost. The meter records such information as occupancy and vacancy time, as well as revenue generated. When pointed toward the meter, a hand-held remote control device containing compatible software extracts the data collected inside the meter.

"After all the information from the hand-held device is downloaded into a PC," said Vincent Yost, president of Intelligent Devices Inc., "through color graphic software, city officials can determine the average weekly or monthly parking activity for a space, zone and district, as well as how many expired vehicles there were in an area, and the amount of cash every meter collector has gathered. If the meter's survey indicates that expirations are substantially high in particular areas, a city may want to consider lengthening the allocated time limit," he added. "