Parking meter

Parking meter

A parking meter is a device used to collect money in exchange for the right to park a vehicle in a particular place for a limited amount of time. Parking meters can be used by municipalities as a tool for enforcing their integrated on-street parking policy, usually related to their traffic and mobility management policies.


The parking meter was invented in 1935 by Carl C. Magee in Oklahoma City, OK. The world's first installed parking meter was in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on July 16, 1935. Industrial production started in 1936 and expanded until the mid '80s. The first models were based on a coin acceptor, a dial to engage the mechanism and a visible pointer and flag to indicate expiration of paid period. This configuration lasted for more than 40 years, with only a few changes in the exterior design, like the double-headed version and the incorporation of new materials and production techniques.

The first parking meter in the UK was installed on the 10th June, 1958 in Grosvenor Square, London by Parkeon In 1960, New York City hired its first crew of "meter maids", all were women. It was not until 1967 that the first man was hired.

In the mid '80s, a digital version was introduced, replacing the mechanical parts with electronic components: boards, keyboards and displays. This allowed more flexibility to the meter, as an EEPROM chip can be reconfigured more easily than corresponding mechanical components.

By the beginning of the '90s, millions of parking meter units had been sold around the world, but the market was already looking into new solutions, like the collective pay and display machines and new forms of payment that appeared along with electronic money and communication technologies. As a result, the parking meter industry has entered a period of decline and is now limited to a very narrow market.

Security issues

Parking meters are exposed to the elements and to vandals so protection of the device and its cash contents is a priority.

Some cities have learned the hard way that these machines must be upgraded regularly to keep up with the creativity of vandals. In Berkeley, California, the cut-off remains of meter poles were a common sight during the late 1990s, and parking was largely free (and chaotic) throughout the city until the city government installed digital parking meters with heavier poles in 2000 (which were eventually vandalized as well).


By inserting coins into a currency detector slot or swiping a credit card or smartcard into a slot, and turning a handle (or pressing a key), a timer is set within the meter. Some locations allow payment by mobile phone (to remotely record payments for subsequent checking and enforcement). A dial or display on the meter indicates the time remaining.

In many cities, all parking meters are designed to use only one type of coin. Use of other coins will fail to register, and the meter may cease to function altogether. For example, in Hackensack, New Jersey all parking meters are designed for quarters only.

Some newer parking meters have a sensor that can determine when a parking space has been vacated. Once this happens, any remaining time on the meter resets to zero, forcing the next driver to pay the full price for parking. This feature can also be used to enforce maximum parking times by requiring that the parking space be vacated before allowing any additional time to be purchased. This makes it more difficult for the driver to simply return and purchase additional time, or for a "good samaritan" to pay for more parking on the driver's behalf (sometimes called "feeding the meter").


In the American states of Maryland and Massachusetts, individuals with disabled parking privileges do not need to pay parking meters. Previously, Virginia also allowed persons with disabled plates or placards to park at meters without paying, but due to misuse of the privilege by persons who used permits which belonged to others, the privilege to use meters without paying by disabled permitees was revoked. In some other states handicapped parking meters exist, which not only must be paid at the same rate as regular meters, but one will also be subject to receiving a violation ticket if a valid handicap license plate or placard is not displayed on the vehicle.

Alternatives to parking meters are pay and display machines (for dashboard display of proof of payment until a certain hour) and machines to accept and electronically record payment by stall number, (known in New York City as the Muni Meter). An experimental program in Houston, Texas was introduced in response to a revised city ordinance for Saturday-enforced metered parking.

In the UK and Europe pay and display is very popular. It is now possible to park and pay by mobile phone. You call a number, tell the operator where you are and how long you want to park and pay by credit/debit card. The Civil Enforcement Officers that patrol the parking area's know if you have paid in this way as it comes up on their hand held devices.

In the District of Columbia, locations with heavy demand for parking have gone from having a meter at every spot to having a single payment station on that block. One parks one's vehicle, goes to the payment station to purchase a receipt for the amount of time desired, then returns to the vehicle and places it on the passenger side of the dashboard. The payment station accepts coins or credit cards.

Some cities have gone to a device called a Parkulator, in which the user purchases a display device, usually for $5 or $10, then loads it with as much time as they care to purchase. They then activate the device when they park at a location, and place the display device on their dashboard so it is visible from the front windshield. The device counts down the time remaining on the device while it remains activated. When they return, then stop the device, ending the consumption of time. The advantage to this is that the person only pays for as much time as they actually use.

Other Modern advances

More modern parking meters are generically called multispace meters (as opposed to single space meters) and control multiple spaces per block (typically 8-12) or lot (unlimited). Whilst with these meters the parker may have to walk several car lengths to the meter, there are significant benefits in terms of customer service, performance and efficiency. Multispace meters incorporate more customer-friendly features such as on-screen instructions and acceptance of credit cards for payment -- no longer do drivers have to have pockets full of coins or risk a parking ticket. They also have many performance benefits that keep them performing better. While they still may be prone to coin jams and other types of vandalism, most of these meters are wireless and can report problems immediately to maintenance staff, who can then fix the meters so that they are not out of service for very long.

With pay by space meters, the driver parks in a space, goes to the meter and enters their space number and payment. The meter memorizes the time remaining, and enforcement personnel press the bay buttons to check for violations.

Other advances with parking meters include vehicle detection technology, which allows the pay by space meters to know when there is a car parked in a space. This opens the door for benefits for both motorists and parking managers, including providing way-finding (directing drivers to unoccupied spaces via the web or via street signs), enabling remote violation detection, and gathering vital statistics about parking supply and demand.

Another alternative to the traditional parking meter is the use of personal parking meters (in-car meters), small mobile devices that are purchased by the motorist, with a pre-paid parking bank used by the motorist to pay for on-street parking fees. Another technology offers the possibility of reloading money (parking time) to the device via a secure Intrnet site.

New York City retired its last spring-loaded, single-space, mechanical parking meter at 10:25 a.m. on December 20, 2006. It was located at the southwest corner of West 10th Street and Surf Avenue in Coney Island. “The world changes. Just as the token went, now the manual meter has gone,” said Iris Weinshall, the city’s transportation commissioner, at a small ceremony marking the occasion, the New York Times reported. The new digital meters, which now account for all of the city's 62,000 single-space parking meters, are more accurate and more difficult to break into.


  • In the introductory scene of the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, Lucas "Luke" Jackson, played by Paul Newman, is sent to a prison camp for cutting the heads off parking meters while drunk.

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