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New Parking Technologies Getting Closer

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2005, at 10:52AM

The LA Times today runs a piece talking about high-tech parking meters being trialed in the LA area. I mentioned back in March that the CRA parking study is watching trials currently being done in Pasadena and West Hollywood. Downtown is a war-zone for parking meters, and it's been well-documented that the city doesn't get all the revenue it should from current meters (and I'm talking about the paperclip tricks here, not forgetting to collect money from a third-party vendor. that's a different issue).

Inevitably, though, these new meters or paystations meet with people who just can't figure out newfangled systems.

Update (11:50am): I just noticed that a motion on Friday's Council agenda includes asking DOT to report back in 30 days on the "status on implementation of the City's SMART Parking Meter Pilot Program." It also renews the City's meter collection contract with Serco.

From the Times:

Across Sunset Boulevard, UCLA student Shunit Yaacobi popped in her credit card, quickly punched in the information and scooted off for lunch at Le Petit Four with classmate Katherine Neifeld.

"We're savvy," said Neifeld with a laugh.

But at the next kiosk over, Pablo Lazaro of San Clemente was struggling. "How do you do it? What's the secret? I give up. It's very confusing," he said.

Waiting his turn behind Lazaro was Guy Botham of Hollywood. He finally coached Lazaro on how to buy an extra half hour.

In Chicago this summer I left my bags at Union Station for the day in Amtrak baggage claim lockers. The lockers take partial payment up front, and read your fingerprint. That print (or rther a digital hash computed from certain points) then gets used as your key to retrieve your bags.

Waiting to get a locker I was behind an older gentleman who just couldn't figure out how to get the thing to work right. I stood there for a few minutes, and then offered suggestions for how to follow the machine's instructions. I had him his locker a minute later. It took me thirty seconds or less to have mine.

Similarly, in July Kathy and I took Metrolink out to Upland and took a cab to Ontario Airport. We were behind a few people in line for the Metrolink ticket machine, and it was taking the first close to five minutes to get her purchase completed (note that this is an off-peak time... these aren't commuters). Kathy was worried we were going to miss the train. But then the guy in front of us and I both bought tickets in maybe two minutes.

The point here isn't my mastery of machines, but instead just the reality that new technologies such as these will be encountered by all manner of person, and absolute care must be taken in the design of the user interface. Confusion delays must also be factored into such things are how many spots are controlled by a single paystation. You can't have five people in line waiting to pay for parking getting held up by a system that takes someone five minutes to figure out.

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