Parking meters nickel-and-dime students to death

Unfair, outdated parking meter technology puts a financial squeeze on students.

by John Hoff

Small and constant pinpricks can ultimately bleed you white. That’s the situation with parking meters in the neighborhood around the University and in the greater Twin Cities area. These evil shyster devices won’t take nickels and dimes. If there’s a meter out there which takes small change, I have yet to encounter it.

Oh, some will take dollar coins. When was the last time you received several dollar coins in change? Parking meters may as well ask for $2 bills or Canadian loonies, the odds of having some would be roughly the same.

One day my classmate Andrea came running into the Humphrey Institute computer lab where I was pecking away, writing a column about police busting parties while letting bike theft run rampant. Andrea ran so quickly I thought she was looking for somebody with a cell phone to call 911, that some kind of emergency was taking place. It turned out she was parked a block away, and desperately needed quarters.

“Gold!” she exclaimed, as I opened the coin pouch on my backpack.

One business in the Stadium Village area (which I prefer to call Stubbyville, after Stub & Herbs) actually has a sign posted saying quarters will not be provided for parking meters. Personally, I won’t patronize a rude business like that. But such a sign is evidence of the desperate need for quarters in an area where street parking is highly coveted.

Civilization itself grinds to a halt and idles. Cars sit running while owners seek something more exact than exact change, Middle Eastern gasoline combusts without forward motion, giving aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden.

Drivers who lack overly specific coinage drive another block, maybe five blocks and then walk, in poorly lit areas, grasping keys between knuckles. It’s bad enough in the summer, what about when it’s 40 below? All for a stupid handful of quarters.

Thankfully, both City Council candidates for Ward 2 are starting to acknowledge parking meters as a neighborhood concern. Cam Gordon of the Green Party mentioned it Tuesday in his guest column. During the recent Green vs. DFL debate, Cara Letofsky mentioned the issue, too.

In a private conversation prior to the debate, Cam Gordon told me some residents were inquiring about meters that would take credit cards. Nickel and dime parking meters apparently aren’t satisfactory; these residents have been pampered by digital meters in other cities.

So why not parking meters that will take every coin of the realm, as well as money from credit cards or U-Passes? In the mid-1990’s, residents in San Francisco got so fed up with parking issues that a ballot initiative called Proposition H was sponsored. This initiative would have “returned parking meters that accept nickels and dimes and rolled back parking fines to the 1988 level.” Though the initiative was defeated, partly because of other junk that was part of the package, grassroots democracy had an impact.

Four years later, plans were laid to rip out the technologically backward meters and replace them with devices that would take nickels, dimes and plastic in addition to quarters.

Cam Gordon? Cara Letofsky? Yes, I’m talking to you, Ward 2 candidates, from the column again. Imagine all the possibilities for tweaking social policy with a tool like more technologically advanced parking meters.

It would be possible, for example, to issue digital parking passes to owners of new electric or hybrid cars. Let us say, for example, 100 hours of free parking a month to owners of fuel-efficient hybrid cars, as an incentive to get rid of gas-guzzlers.

Or perhaps Minneapolis would like to encourage smart, hardworking young college graduates from North Dakota to flee their bleak, wretched homeland and seek a better standard of living in the Twin Cities. While these desperate North Dakota refugees live in their vehicles, Minneapolis could mercifully provide free digital parking passes, just until they get on their feet, economically.

And what to do with the old meters, you ask? I don’t suggest exporting these misery making devices to some other city. First, let charitable organizations sell tickets to whack them with sledgehammers. Then melt them down and make something appropriate out of them, like benches and bike racks. Suppose you could sit on that hypothetical bench made from melted parking meters, looking upon a theoretical future. What kind of future would you see? Would you see stings directed against bike thieves? Vicious crackdowns on partying students? An official policy of tolerance by Minneapolis police for less than an ounce of marijuana?

Students will decide and shape the future with votes for either Cam Gordon of the Green Party or Cara Letofsky of the DFL. Students, when you park your vehicle and dash to the polls, think about parking tickets you’ve paid with blood plasma money for lack of a handful of exact change, and consider which candidate will help you stop the bleeding.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected] John Hoff has mailed in paperwork to join the local Green Party, and has been a Green Party member in the past.