A parking meter is a device used for traffic enforcement. When a motorist parks in a parking space governed by a parking meter, he or she must pay to park there. Typically, a parking meter is capped, meaning that a motorist may only use the space for a set amount of time. If a motorist fails to pay or a parking meter expires, he or she will be liable for a parking ticket. Many cities all over the world use parking meters as part of their traffic management programs, especially in impacted areas.
The idea for the parking meter was developed in the early 1930s, when Carl Magee wanted to encourage frequent cycling of parking spaces in downtown Oklahoma City. He noticed that people would take up parking spaces all day, discouraging shoppers and people trying to do business. Signs could be posted informing motorists that they could only park for a set amount of time, but Magee thought that meters would enforce the idea and produce revenue for the city.
In 1935, the first parking meter was installed, and the idea quickly caught on elsewhere. The basic design of the parking meter did not vary terribly much in the next 50 years or so. A motorist inserted money and turned a lever, which activated a timer. When the timer was up, a red flag would appear, indicating that the meter had to expire and that the motorist needed to move or insert more money.
In the 1980s, parking meter companies started manufacturing digital parking meters, which used a programmable digital display instead of an analog one. In addition to being clear and easy for motorists to read, a digital parking meter can also be reprogrammed. For example, a city can hike parking rates with a click of a button, rather than having to individually adjust meters all over the city.
In many cities, the individual parking meter, which takes the form of a box on a pole, has been replaced by a “pay and display” set up. This type of parking meter is used to monitor multiple spaces. The motorist must take note of which space he or she uses, and then money can be inserted to pay for the space. Some pay and display systems also accept credit cards or transit tokens, so that motorists do not have to carry around change.
Using parking meters tends to help reduce congestion in downtown areas, since people are encouraged to use public transit, walk, or bike to avoid parking meters and potential tickets. It also generates valuable revenue for a city. Parking meter collections are used to fund traffic improvements, public transit, and other public works.
When parking cars in areas with parking meters, always check to see how much time you can purchase, which types of currency are accepted, and how long you are allowed to park. In addition, many parking meter fees do not apply after a certain time, or on some days of the week, so read the meter carefully to make certain that you are not paying when you don't need to.