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Ferreting Out Meter Feeders

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beware, all you parking meter feeders and restricted zone overtimers.

Take heed, you who are weighed down with quarters or hoping the parking enforcement officer is working a distant neighborhood.

The swift and unblinking eye of the mobile parking camera might be coming your way.

The District's Department of Public Works is evaluating several systems that would enable parking officers to swing quickly through a neighborhood with a license plate reader or similar technology to catch violators.

The city already uses such tools to check for scofflaws, but now it wants to focus, in part, on commuters who occupy downtown parking places intended for shoppers.

"We don't want employee parking" there, department director William O. Howland Jr. said last week. "We want turnover to help business."

The District -- where a search for street parking can have the intensity of a demolition derby -- has about 16,000 parking meters and about 4,100 blocks of residential parking permit zones, according to Karyn LeBlanc, spokeswoman for the D.C. Transportation Department.

Most time limits for meters and permit zones are two hours, she said. And no, it's not okay to pump in more coins every two hours.

The new systems would dramatically increase the efficiency of overtime parking enforcement, Howland said. Currently, officers manually enter data into hand-held computers.

Sensors being readied for testing look like gizmos from "Ghost Busters."

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.

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