Tar Wheels…The “Armless Bandits”

Las Vegas has their slot machines – the “One Arm Bandits:” Municipalities have their “No Arm Bandits” – the parking meter! If you drive a car…you must find a place to park it! It took cities almost thirty-five years to figure out how to convert that fact into money.

In 2022, the United States had over 260 million vehicles and astoundingly, they are parked about 95% of the time. The website, CityCommentary, lists the New York City area as the most expensive spaces in the in the nation.  

Holger George Thuesen and Gerald A. Hale, engineering professors at Oklahoma State University, designed the first working parking meter and comically named it the “Black Maria.” These mechanical coin eaters began scooping money along Oklahoma City streets on July 16, 1935. Their design remains the basis for the meters today.

Meters are simply clocks with a coin buying a segment of time. When your time limit expires, a nasty message appears “expired” and now it is “ticket time!”

Before the meters, police patrolled with wooden sticks containing white chalk. As they walked their two-hour beat, they marked a rear tire. If the marked car was still there in two hours, they decorated the car with a pink ticket.

The parking meter has appeared in court many times as irate citizens question why they pay to park on streets paid for by THEIR taxes. Time and again courts have ruled street use is not an absolute right derived from taxes.

Many police officers consider issuing parking tickets as demeaning work – hence the advent of “Meter Maids”. The name is derived from the New York City ladies who patrol the meters.

Electronic meters chocked with printed circuits and digital technology replaced the cantankerous clocks in the 1980s. They now devour a swipe of plastic as well as coins. Endless solar power operates the electronics as well as notifying a technician if they are broken.

Parking spaces are a nice revenue stream and often produce more dollars with less litigation than traffic fines. Oh yes…cities gain another fee from franchising towing companies.

Parking revenues are huge. In 2016, New York City collected 545 million dollars in parking violations. Charlotte didn’t fare too bad either as they raked in over 9 million with a 73% collection rate. Hmm…Where have all the nickel meters gone?

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