This week marks the beginning of the end for a device that sooner or later annoys us all.
For the first time, the city is pulling out some old on-street parking meters and replacing them with new pay-and-display machines. This is the future.
The traditional parking meter — loved by dogs, despised by drivers — has had a very good run.
The first one was installed in Oklahoma City in July, 1935. And the first expired-meter ticket took place there too, just a month later. But Rev. C.H. North argued he’d been gone just a few minutes, dashing into a store to get change for that meter. The judge cancelled his ticket.
A dozen years later, in March of 1947, Hamilton got its first parking meters. They were installed downtown as an experiment, to try to ease congestion in the core. That sure worked. By the mid-’50s, shoppers were heading to the new Centre Mall — where there wasn’t a meter in sight.
A nickel an hour
The Spectator ran a photo spread of that first meter, complete with instructions on how to operate it: "Motorists will drop coins in the meter for the length of time they wish to park." It was one cent for 12 minutes, five cents for an hour.
They say parking is the biggest cash business next to gambling. There are 2,500 meters in Hamilton. A good meter — around a hospital, for instance — might bring in $1,200 a year. A meter on Barton East, much less.
Pay-and-display machines began to sprout behind City Hall. People there got used to feeding the machine, getting the slip, putting it on their dash. The units were then installed in other municipal lots.
Fifteen years ago, it would have cost the city $15,000 for a pay-and-display unit. Now, with improved technology and more competition, they’re about half that price. The old meter, however, has gone the other way — up to about $500 now.
Three years ago, pay-and-display units were installed on Locke Street. These weren’t replacing meters — parking there had been free.
Meters suddenly gone
But this week the city pulled out sidewalk meters for the first time. Dozens have just vanished from stretches of Charlton and Herkimer near St. Joseph’s Hospital. In their place, 10 shiny solar-powered devices from the Hectronic company of Germany. One machine is supposed to do duty for six to eight meters.
This is the first year of the conversion from the old meters, but the switchover will be gradual. One early candidate could be King Street. Rapid-transit plans would see meters moved off the north side of the street. On the south side, there would be pay-and-displays.
Sebastian Stula, supervisor of parking services with the city, explains you’ll still need to fish out coins. These new machines won’t be accepting credit cards, and that’s because parking is a relative bargain in Hamilton.
"In Toronto, where the rate might be $3 or $4 an hour, credit cards can make sense," he says. "But back-end transaction fees just don’t work when you charge $1 an hour."
Stula says the pay-and-display machines will solve one problem. With meters, somebody might put in a toonie at 3:30 p.m., which should buy them two hours — but if it’s a rush-hour zone, they have to be out of there by 4 p.m. The new machines would know rush hour is coming, and only take a 30-minute payment.
There is a downside. One of life’s great joys is pulling into a spot and finding time left on the meter. Now the gift from the guy before you sails away on his dash.