District's new parking meters take credit cards

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010

In the 75 years since the first parking meter sucked down a coin, few kind words have been said about the sidewalk sentinels.

They demand your money, and if you spurn them or overstay your welcome, you risk a parking ticket.

Given that chilly relationship, the warmth Saturday on U Street NW was extraordinary.

"That's pretty cool. I like it," said Donis Zepeda as he studied one of eight new meters just east of 15th Street.

"I appreciate this," Zach Gittens said after pulling up to another.

The beauty of the meters deployed this month is simple: They take plastic. No quarters needed.

The meters were installed in five locations in the District where parking spaces turn over frequently, where the per-hour charge amounted to $2 and where the meters needed replacing anyway.

The new meters are fairly simple to operate, but there is a trick to them. When a credit card is inserted, the window flashes to 45 minutes. If you press the green "okay" button and walk away, you'll be charged $1.50. That's great if you plan to be there for 45 minutes, but if you're just grabbing the dry cleaning or picking up a pizza, look to the two little blue buttons on the left. Just like a Metro Farecard machine, one allows you to add time to the meter (and more money to your credit card bill), and the other allows you to subtract.

The new meters also accept dollar coins, quarters, dimes and nickels. But as several people parking on U Street said Saturday, who carries change these days?

It takes a pound of quarters to pay for two hours of parking at one of the District's "premium" location meters. In addition to people carrying change less frequently, merchants often post "no change" signs in windows.

"I never carry coins, and I get a lot of tickets," Zepeda said as he slipped his Visa card into the meter and punched the buttons. "That was pretty easy. "

Gittens, 25, said that to people his age, cash is obsolete.

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