By Jordan W. Charness; photo by Scott Bricker (Bicycle Transportation Alliance)

In these tough economic times, governments are scrambling to scrounge every bit of money that they can; they’re looking for new sources of income without directly increasing taxes. This has become readily apparent in the increase in the fees for registering cars, renewing driver’s licences, tolls on roads and bridges and parking meters.

In fact, in many places the driver is now seen as easy picking for increases in fees that should really just be part of government-provided services included in regular taxes. One of the new catchwords these days is “public-private partnerships,” where the government joins with the private sector to build roads or bridges and then shares the revenue from tolls as a means to pay for it.

Even municipalities are starting to contract out their parking services to private corporations who install and maintain parking meters. The parking meters themselves have become far more sophisticated compared to the days where you just put in a quarter and twisted the dial.

Now the majority of parking meters are electronic and the most sophisticated ones can be remotely programmed to raise fees in the blink of an eye. The city of Montréal installed new electronic parking meters a few years ago and other cities have followed this model as well. These electronic meters work on a system whereby you no longer put money in a meter, but go to a central pay station located every half block or so where you enter a parking spot number and pay your money in cash or by credit card.

Unlike the old meters where you could actually see that there was time left on the meter, these new systems don’t give you any indication of how much time has been paid for and remains on a given spot. Only the person who paid money knows how much time is left since a printed receipt with an expiry time is issued just after putting in the money.

Since almost no one uses the exact amount of time that they paid for in a parking spot there is a lot of unclaimed time that just goes to waste. The city of Montréal decided to put that unclaimed time to “good” use and programmed their machines to delete the remaining time and reset to zero as soon as another payment is made in the central machine. In this way if you leave after an hour but have paid for two hours and someone takes your spot and puts money in the meter, that extra hour you paid for will disappear and parker number two will start from zero. Essentially the city gets double paid for that hour of parking.

I’m pleased to see a groundswell of resistance popping up. Almost anywhere you go in Montréal, you can now see people’s parking receipts stuck onto the meter polls. In this way if someone leaves a spot with time remaining and you pull into that spot you will see that there still may be some time left before you have to feed the meter.

Is this legal? Probably. In theory, the parking places are only rented out to the person who paid for it to park one car. It is that reasoning that the city uses for dropping the time to zero when a new person puts money in the meter. On the other hand there’s certainly no reason why parker number one could not gift some of his or her parking time to parker number two. In fact, it’s one of the nicest things that you can do. Everyone likes to get something for nothing.

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