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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ParkMagic or ParkNonsense?

There are 33,000 parking meters on the streets in the city of Chicago. I remember a simpler time, when you pulled up to a meter, whucked in a few quarters to throw time on the clock as needed, and went about your business. You didn't want to come back rushing to feed the meter, so you erred on the side of caution and maybe put in a little extra to make sure you have the time. You finish your business, come back to your car, and while for a second you lament the cents wasted with 12 minutes left on the meter, you consider those pennies better than the amount of a parking ticket, and consider it a charitable gift to whomever pulls their car in during the next 12 minutes.

If you think this "simpler time" is present day, you're sorely mistaken. Welcome to the ParkMagic era.

ParkMagic is an Ireland-based company with a U.S. site in Michigan. Basically the program entails a beeper-looking device that you buy and initially load with $15 or more. As you pull up to a parking meter, you then call this number, punch in your beeper information and the zone of your meter (yes, there are ZONES now, more on that in a minute), and it downloads to your beeper with a countdown instead of the meter. Now, instead of running to the meter to feed it more, you dash to your cellphone to call back up and dial in more money. Supposedly in the future, if this becomes mainstream, you'll be able to receive e-mails of traffic and availability as well as RECEIVE calls from your meter when it's close to expiring.

Some people may see this as a vast improvement, mostly because they don't need quarters anymore. I see it as nothing but a nuisance and digital nonsense.

For starters, the ZONES. I already am loathed at the idea that the city can just decree that just for arriving in the city and wanting to do business and stimulate the economy, you must pay for the privilege of leaving your car. We really are just a few steps away from tolls just to enter the precious city space. Sorry, city, but you're just slabs of pavement and asphalt and hobo urine - so GET OVER YOURSELF and just let me park the damned car. There used to be a STANDARD rate of coinage in a meter in relation to time allowed to park there. Now there are ZONES, from 1 to 6, which dictate how much time a quarter (oh, I'm sorry - 25 electronic cents) will get you. Zone 1 allows five whole minutes, Zone 2 is ten, Zone 3 is fifteen, Zone 4 is twenty, Zone 5 is thirty and Zone 6 allows for an hour.

If technology of today is any indicator, parking at a Zone 1 meter will mean that within 60 seconds, you'll need to be dialing in the number again to go through the menus and wait time due to call volume in order to ensure that your next 5-minute payment goes through before your meter runs out.

Of course, I'm sure that you can pay for more than 5 minutes at a time, but my point stands. Ten seconds to whuck in change, versus four minutes of phone menus to hope that everything works right and your beeper registers your payment.

Here's where a big truckload of nonsense comes into play: everyone is treating this like the city of Chicago is LOSING money somehow on these meters and that the new system will fix everything.

First off, the city starts LOSING money because now a share of the parking meter revenue gets split with ParkMagic. Doesn't anyone know business anymore? The more people you bring in on a deal, the more partners you have to share the profits with. Try watching ONE heist film and then tell me it's a smart idea to bring in some new jackass who wants a cut of the money. He'll probably shoot you and take YOUR cut, too. *shakes fist at ParkMagic* I'm not falling for that one again!!!

Secondly, too much emphasis is being put on cents and minutes and LIES. Take this quote from the ParkMagic CEO: "People pay for one hour. If they come back in an hour and fifteen minutes and get a ticket, they feel bad about it. If they don't get a ticket, the city has just lost 25 percent of an hour [worth of revenue]." Okay, assuming that you're willing to nitpick over the fact that the city loses that fifteen minutes in revenue (eight cents), that needs to be compared to the FREE money that the city gets from overpaying at a meter and leaving before time expires. You can't simply argue that it doesn't count, because someone else will pull into that spot and NOT pay money because time's still on the meter; we're using the same logic of "if that thing happens in this way" like the failure to issue a ticket, and the city hasn't even LOST money because the meter is fed and that's money for the city no matter whose car is parked there.

It's also a foolish idea to base this on the failure to issue tickets, which we ALL know is NOT the case. Even at a rate of two tickets per hour, I have a feeling that this revenue for the city not only pays for the meter agent's wages for the hour, but also counteracts all of those missed-eight-cents meters. I'm also pretty sure that more than two tickets are written per hour by each agent.

Thirdly, doesn't this go against everything that our politicians have been talking about? I may not have the best memory in the world, but wasn't it not too long ago that my favorite nemesis alderman was trying to ban radar detectors because they could be used to warn drivers of speed cameras? Didn't that alderman admit, point blank, that all of those tickets weren't just something that brought in revenue for the city - they were downright PART OF THE BUDGET?

So how is it that the aldermen are fine with this ParkMagic program? They lose money from the meters because the new partner gets a cut, and they're admittedly welcoming in a system that would potentially reduce the number of meter-related parking tickets by a drastic amount. Something just really doesn't seem right here. I mean, it seems completely right if you're a driver in the city of Chicago - which is what's baffling me. Maybe I'm just not used to programs potentially helping actual citizens (I mean, until the lack of ticket money creates a deficit that needs to be made up for by inevitably creating higher taxes).

I can't shake the feeling that this will bite us all in the ass.

Of course, I could be wrong. I don't even drive or own a car...

(The article about ParkMagic)

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