By Bob Blake
Las Vegas has their slot machines – the “One Arm Bandits:” Municipalities have their “No Arm Bandits” – the parking meter! If you drive a car…you must ultimately find a place to park it! Cities took almost 35 years to figure out how to convert this act into money. The first parking meter appeared in the mid-1930s.
Holger George Thuesen and Gerald A. Hale, engineering professors at Oklahoma State University, designed the first working parking meter and comically named it the “Black Maria.” These mechanical coin eaters began scooping up money along Oklahoma City streets on July 16, 1935. Their rather simple design had few changes for forty years.
The meters were a basic clock that sold time by minutes – patrons deposited a coin, turned the handle and the clock started. When the purchased time expired, a nasty flag blocked the window and “ticket time” arrived!
Before the meters, some cities equipped police officers with white chalk on the end of a wooden stick. They marked the rear tire as they made their first pass on a two-hour beat. If the car remained when they circled back, the front windshield received a stunning pink citation – time expired!
Over the years, the lowly parking meter has gone to court on numerous occasions. Irate citizens question why they must pay to park on streets paid for with THEIR money. Unfortunately, the courts have ruled that free use of the streets is not an absolute right.
The majority of police officers consider issuing parking tickets as demeaning work – hence the advent of “Meter Maids” to police parking problems.
During the 1980s, digital technology replaced the cantankerous clocks and clanking coins. Within a few years, the sophisticated timers welcomed the quick swipe of plastic. These smart meters communicate wirelessly so the credit card information is secure. Many of the new machines are solar-powered and are smart enough to notify a technician when they are broken or vandalized.
Some cities question whether the technology will make motorist more compliant and they will lose lucrative fines! MarketWatch© reports,” New York earns a lot more from parking tickets than parking meters—$550 million compared to $100 million in 2014.”
Some sophisticated cities bypass the collection hassle and simply sell the rights to their meters for cash “up front.” Recently Chicago sold 75 years of meter revenue for FIVE BILLION dollars, and New York is trying to top that figure. Those nickels and dimes – now dollars – add up!