In parking, as in life, the best usually prevails–but not always.
When automobiles first came on the scene, gasoline-powered cars competed with electrics, steamers, and diesels. Eventually, gasoline won out, although electric-powered cars are more efficient and both steam- and diesel-powered engines produce more torque. Essentially, gasoline’s convenience that won the day.
Consider recorded music: We evolved from 8-tracks to cassettes, CDs, and now to iPods and cloud storage.
In video, VHS won out over Betamax, and Blu-ray defeated HD DVD. Was VHS better? Is Blu-ray really better? Some would argue that the defeated technologies were actually superior.
So, which technology will dominate the parking meter field in years to come? They all pretty much accept credit cards, so that’s a settled issue. But is pay-by-space, pay-and display, or pay-by-plate better? Are multi-space meters better than single-space? Will meters as we know them be made obsolete by pay-by-cell?
I asked a handful of IPI members I consider leading experts, and they pretty much all agreed that pay-by-cell is the single unifying technology that will dominate. But in the meantime, what should a city, parking authority, or private entity do to provide customers with the most efficient and customer-friendly–or at least the least annoying–form of parking meter?
Pay-and-display has the largest market share in the U.S. and Europe. Customers like the portability of pay-by-space; they’re buying time, not a particular space. The big drawback is that it makes pay-by-cell difficult. Pay-by-space has its proponents, but it can be tricky in cold-weather cities where snow makes for real problems. Pay-by-plate has made some inroads, but it too has problems in cold-weather cities and with U.S. license plates that are not always linear.
The jury is still out. The gripes I hear from customers are not so much related to which type of meter, but to meters that seem to take forever to process information and print receipts, screens that are difficult to read or are poorly placed, and kiosks that are badly signed or hidden by other street elements. A well-designed meter that is easy to read, fast to process, and conveniently located–and that accepts pay-by-cell–is still the best choice.