Why transparency matters: parking meters & double-charging

The City of Milwaukee has been busy replacing coin meters with consolidated electronic stations–but are the kiosks making drivers pay for parking that someone else has already covered?

Think of a parking spot as a place that requires payment for its use by anyone over the course of time.  For example, how many times have you (assuming you drive and use metered spots) pulled into a parking spot, went to ‘plug the meter,’ and discovered–to great satisfaction–that there was still time left?  When someone left the spot, whatever excess time on the meter hadn’t disappeared.  This is because parking spot payment isn’t tied to the person parking–it’s tied to the spot’s general use.

That’s also how a gift card works.  If you buy a gift card for $10 and use $5 of it, and then you give the card to someone else, the gift card still has $5 on it.  It hasn’t suddenly become empty because you no longer hold the gift card.

So why is the City of Milwaukee appearing to act otherwise?  Consider the new meters: you pull up, you go to pay, and you don’t know if there’s money in a spot (because there is no timer at the spot; and from my experience, there isn’t one at the kiosk either).  Considering how many times I’ve pulled into spots in the past and saw the coin meters with time left, I am concluding that there is most likely time still being left on spots these days.  The difference is I don’t have access to that information.

What’s to be done?  The City should acknowledge that it has been most likely double-charging for the same parking services since the new meters were installed and then donate an appropriate amount (I admit I don’t know how that would be determined) to a worthy cause related to transportation, like pedestrian or bicyclist safety.  Next they should have the kiosks programmed display the amount of time left for a parking space’s number so the person knows how much time to add, if any is needed at all.

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