August 23, 2015

License-Plate Parking

I'm squinting at the parking meter, grateful that it's a quiet weekday morning and nobody is behind me waiting their turn to use it. That gives me a chance to take my time with the new routine, and to step back and admire the photovoltaic panel mounted on top like a minimalist umbrella.

But let's step back in time a bit: In the beginning, there was the mechanical parking meter. Putting in a quarter (or a lot of quarters, depending on where you are parking) made the steel arrow move to the desired parking time. The arrow sits in a glass window, so you can see it from both sides of the parking meter.

Parking meters lined up down the length of the street alwas reminded me of the scene in the Odyssey, where Penelope challenges her suitors to shoot an arrow through the eyes of twelve axe heads. Except parking meters were never that well lined up.

Then there was the Pay and Display scheme: this is where you park your car and pay at a post that dispenses a slip of paper that says your car is good to stand there until the time stamped on the paper. This you put on your dash board.

This saves a lot of meter repair, and the cost (and risk) of emptying the meter of its coins. But it still broadcasts to the world, or at least to anyone who glances through the wind shield, how much longer your car is going to stand there. That's really not great for privacy or theft safety.

So now the city of Delft, which has pioneered all sorts of transportation measures that make cities more liveable, is running a pilot program of license plate based parking called, in true Germanic form, "kentekenparkeren".

As with Pay and Display, there is one meter for the parking lot (run on a solar panel, mounted above the meter). However, it no longer dispenses the paper with the time stamp. And as we shall see, it requires no coin pickup either.

Start by entering the license plate ("kenteken") of the car you are parking. Apparently it does not require a Dutch license plate, which is nice if you're visiting from outside the country, like France of Poland.

Then you enter the time you plan to park the car. This is still a fixed amount, even though you get to choose it. It would be great if you could enter some long time, and get reimbursed if you return before the time is up. But maybe that's for a future implementation. For now, you estimate the time you need.

The machine responds with the amount you owe. At this particular spot it's apparently €0.60 an hour, really not that much. This is the outskirts of a small city, after all. Of course, if you dont owe a parking fee, like on Sundays, the meter would give you a friendly reminder, which a mechanical parking meter never did.

But when you look for the coin slot, you'd be disappointed. Even though there is one (barely visible in the photos, to the right and slightly below the screen), it has been carefully sealed. This is the 21st century now, and no cities want to pass by the safety and cost savings of electronic payments.

You can use a bank card (very popular with the Dutch, who use it for everything, including a 30-cent parking fee), or if you are a hapless tourist you can use a credit card. If you have neither, you're out of luck -- although in practice, chances are you can find a friendly Dutch person who will bail you out with their bank card if you give them the cash.

That's it. This machine prints an optional receipt, but you put that in your wallet or purse, not on the dashboard.

A meter maid would scan the license plate, and the municipal computer would respond with the expiration time. I assume that, once this system if fully implemented, any parking tickets for Dutch cars would be automatically issued by the city computer and arrive at the address to which the car is registered, with a pre-printed money transfer card that only requires your bank account number and your signature to complete. This is how you pay the fine if you run a red light and the camera gets activated (as, I'm sorry to say, I can confirm from personal experience).

Here's the really cool thing about this deal for my dad: My dad has a handicapped-parking card that he hangs on the rear-view mirror. It allows him to park for free, at places designated for the handicapped, or regular places, or places in residential zones that are reserved for residents. As well as anywhere inside the largely car-free city core.

That makes this card extremely desirable, and a magnet for thieves. (When he received the card, it came with an offer for an in-car safe box in which you can lock it away). But now you don't need to bring the card at all: I've registered my aunt's car, which is his motorised transport for the summer, to his handicapped-parking card, and now the car can be parked anywhere inside the city of Delft, without even using the parking meter and without displaying the handicapped-parking card. (Outside of Delft we still have to remember to bring the card, since this is a local experiment).

So this is the true end of unsightly rows of parking meters. Allright, individual parking meters come on poles, perfect to lock your bike to, but that makes it even more unsightly. Bikes belong in their own parking spots. And there would never be arguments about parking tickets issued at meters that don't work.



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2. Urban Design and Traffic
3. This is What I Call a Parking Garage



  1. This is fascinating! In Santa Cruz, CA, and some other places around this area, we have parking meters somewhat similar to this. Rather than use license plate numbers, though, you pay for the spot you're parked in. You pay beforehand for the numbered spot you're in, take the ticket with you, and that's it. I had never thought about the theft issue with parking meters showing how much longer you'd be gone. And I love your note at the bottom about bikes deserving their own parking spaces--wish that were the case everywhere!

    1. Oh that's cool. And gives privacy as well. Thanks for mentioning it! About the bike parking: we all need to push for more of that around where we live. In my town someone convinced the local bike store to sponsor a bunch of bike stands, with their logo on it. And that's fine!


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