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Miserly Meters Put an End to Free Time

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Miserly Meters Put an End to Free Time

Ted Landphair
November 30, 2006
Washington, D.C.

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One of life's delicious little pleasures is pulling into a parking space and finding time left on the meter. Thank you, previous driver!

As you might expect, the city revenue department takes a dim view of such things. To its way of thinking, if parkers don't use all their minutes, that's their privilege. Any leftover minutes are theirs -- not yours.

And the Washington Post reports that with technology's help, the money-collectors have come up with a device that makes sure no one gets those freebie minutes.

It's called an "IntelliMeter," which employs sonar of the sort that submarines use to avoid whales, other subs, and so forth. Say a driver buys an hour's worth of time and leaves his car. While the meter's minutes are ticking down, the sonar device is constantly peering out to confirm there's a big, solid object sitting in the parking space. If the driver returns in just half an hour, pulls the car out, and leaves, it's "red alert" time! "Empty space! Empty space!" the device signals itself, and it wipes away the remaining half hour of credited time.

Perhaps a driver who has a passenger could defeat this cunning little mechanism by sending the passenger to jump in front of the meter while the previous driver is pulling out. The sensor might think the person is still that other car! You pull in. Your friend steps aside. The meter sees your car, thinks it's the other person's vehicle, and leaves the unexpired minutes for you.

Now that's a LOT of trouble to go to and it is probably illegal to make a smart parking meter look stupid. But outwitting a mechanism whose sole purpose is to empty your pockets is another of life's delicious pleasures.



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