A device used to collect a monetary fee in exchange for occupation of a parking space. A coin of varying denomonation is inserted, and the handle turned. Elegantly, this places the coin into the resivour as well as winding the clockwork of the timer. There is a certain charm about the endless repetitive placement and appearance of these little goblins, comfortable familiarity despite the nuisance they are. Until recently most of them were simple mechanical devices, rugged and ugly. Lately they have been replaced by electronic versions which feature a digital display of remaining time instead of a slowly cresting arm counting the minutes till a ticket. The metering device is mounted on a thick pipe which is embedded into the cement such that it may not be knocked over or dragged away. It is the job of a meter maid to drive through the city checking for expired meters and dispensing tickets. In the past people have been known to walk shortly ahead of the meter maid dispensing money into expired meters, saving people from tickets and exhasperating the metermaid.

The parking meter was first patented by Carl C. Magee, filed in 1935 and issued three years later. Mr. Magee was on a committee in Oklahoma City which was attempting to find a remedy for the shortage of parking spaces in the downtown area. Residents of the business district were parking overnight and occupying spaces which the city would have preferred be available to shoppers instead. The city installed these meters which allowed them to prevent people from filling a space for an entire day, as well as generating additional revenue. The solution was an ideal one and caught on immediately in other cities across the nation. It is estimated that there are currently five million parking meters in use by cities, colleges, and various private facilities. The first meters were manufactured by the Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter Company, however they shortly found themselves in competition with Dual, Mark-Time and Duncan-Miller. Many of the meters today are made by companies which trace their heritage back to these originators.

Converting a parking meter into a piggy bank is a relatively simple though slightly dangerous matter. Using a heavy pipe or suitable replacement simply smash the display portion of the parking meter until it pops off from the cast metal base. (you will note upon inspection that the base is of a much more durable construction than the plexiglass top, thus we exploit the vulnerable portion of this piggy.) With the top removed, it is likely that a metal plate will be in place as a protective covering over the cup storing the change. Use the pipe end as necessary to smash this out of the way, and (wearing a thick glove if possible) reach down inside and pull out the change cup avoiding any metal edges which might cut your hand.

Fairness and digital parking meters

As those who have used them have probably noticed, new digital parking meters have liquid crystal displays which, upon insertion of money, begin to count down to 0:00, at which point the display gives some sort of signal to meter-people that it is expired. Sometimes this is in the form of little circles under the display that turn from green to red, and sometimes the display actually flashes red itself. At this point the meter is considered expired, and one is fined a flat amount no matter how long one is away from one's car after this.

The only justification I can think of for the obvious unfairness of this flat fine is the fact that the meter reader, and therefore the city or corporation fining you, doesn't know how long it's been since you meter's run out. So here's my question: Why don't digital parking meters keep counting below 0:00? I think they should display negative time on the screen. That way, they can ticket you based on the amount of time you went over. If ones car sat for five minutes beyond the time paid for, they might be charged a few dollars, while someone who parked for five hours without paying would get a thirty or forty dollar ticket.

How would this affect the usage of the meter? Not much. Just like now, you would park, get out of your car, and walk up to the meter. It would probably have a negative number on the screen. However, as soon as you inserted any money, the screen would read just as it does now: 0:00 plus the amount of time payed for. Then, if you were gone for longer than you expected, you would be fined based on the amount of time between your meter running out and the meter-person checking it.

The way that we meter parking spaces now is a holdover from the days of meters that actually had dials and were limited to a range from 0:00 to some arbitrary maximum. Owners and manufacturers of digital meters should put this technology to its full use and charge more fairly for expired parking.

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