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Cities steer toward new meter

A parking attendant feeds a meter in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles.

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Lisa Napoli: Few things in life are certain. Among them: Death, taxes, and parking meters. Rachel Dornhelm reports there's a new-fangled one that could soon be coming to a block near you.


Rachel Dornhelm: In Walnut Creek, Calif., the old lollipop-head parking meters have been replaced by a new multi-space pay system. For five spaces, there's just one machine. The metal kiosks squat by the curb, looking like petite ATMs. Opinions about them are mixed, but everyone has one.

Mary Lou: They're annoying. I'd rather pay and just twist it.

Julie: I think it's perfect. It's great. It's nice that you can use a credit card, instead of, you know, you have to have coins -- if you don't have coins, then you're kind of in trouble.

City officials crow that the machines are solar powered, and that they'll soon accept payment via cell phone.

Matt Huffaker works as a business manager for the city. He says the machines make parking enforcement simpler.

Matt Huffaker: Our system allows our police department to have mobile handhelds which show what spaces have been paid for and which ones have not.

At $9,000 a pop, the new pay stations aren't cheap to install. But parking consultant Richard Raskin says they can boost a city's parking revenue as much as 40 percent.

Richard Raskin: Parking is one of the biggest cash industries in the country. The . . . two of the other big ones, and this'll just put it in perspective, are casinos and illicit drugs.

Raskin says he's done studies for cities that suggest up to half of their parking quarters are, shall we say, falling through the grate. The new machines could cut that loss, and pick up some extra revenue.

Raskin: When you pay with a credit card or a debit card, you end saying I'll pay for a little bit extra. You drive away with unused parking on your meter, and these meters now reset, they don't allow the next person pulling in to take advantage of that. And that brings in extra revenue as well.

Raskin says yet more savings come on vandalism repairs.

Raskin: When you have 6 to 10 single-space meters, you have the potential of having 6 of 10 problems on that particular block. When you have one multi-space meter, you have the potential of having one problem.

Like many cities, Walnut Creek officials want to increase street parking turnover. So they're raising parking rates. That'll help pay for the new machines, but it could make them a harder sell to citizens.

At the other end of California, the city of Newport Beach found the new meters impossible to sell. After flirting with pay stations, the city bowed to public pressure and brought back the old single-head kind.

I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace.

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