Street parking experiment has readers' attention

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Many travelers wanted to comment on the D.C. street parking experiments that offer alternatives to paying with a fistful of quarters.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I cannot say that I like any of the new solutions. I've never found it to be a burden to have an old film canister with quarters sitting in the glove compartment. If folks need more than even a half canister, then they are using the space much longer than the time the city has designated.

In all the coverage so far, I have heard only that these new systems are being devised for the convenience of the driver, but I don't see the convenience. The pay-by-space solution, which I consider the least awful of the options offered, involves walking partway up the street and using a credit card, which the system may or may not recognize at first try (this actually happened to me and some others).

I do understand that if you punch in your plate number now, you will not have to then walk back to your car, open it and put the receipt in your window.

However, I am very uncomfortable with the notion that now, in addition to tracking my movements with the Metro SmarTrip cards, that one could now potentially track my car's movements through the tags of legally parked vehicles.

Even worse is paying by cellphone by pre-registering with a company. If only credit cards may be used, that is more tracking of my movements. And what of people who don't have a credit card? What of people who don't have a cellphone -- they exist, I understand -- or who don't have one that is charged at the moment?

What is the actual rationale for these possible changes other than the "ease to the consumer" argument, which I find spurious? Is it cheaper for the city to operate? Is it expensive to set up but cheaper to operate rather than repairing or replacing meters? Is the collection of cash at meters the problem?

-- Carol C. Ross, the District

So far, I'm not sure any of the new parking systems -- pay by space, pay by plate, pay by phone -- beats dropping quarters in a meter. The quarter drop is still the champ for speed and simplicity. The problem is that you need 16 of them to cover a two-hour stay in most places.

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