New meters earn A for effort, but …

The sale of debit cards for parking meters on Minneapolis streets offers few benefits to University students. The $50 cards allow users to pay their parking fare without coins, but are too expensive for the average ramen-eating student. The meters represent a good idea, one that when fulfilled will improve student life. If anything, the digital meters that are starting to phase out the decades-old coin meter system mark the emergence of what promises to be a better way to monitor parking. But for now, the city and the University have a long way to go to make the new system workable for ordinary students.
Digital meters have replaced the old machines across campus and Minneapolis in the last few years. They more precisely measure time and coins, eliminating uncertainty and counterfeiting. So far, the new debit card meters have only been installed on major Minneapolis streets. On campus, they sit on Washington Avenue, Oak Street and Huron Boulevard and some streets in Dinkytown. But students have to travel to City Hall, Leamington Municipal Parking Ramp or Jerry Haaf Garage for the cards.
Most meters on campus, already converted to coin-only digital, don’t have the card option. Considering this and the high first-time price of the debit option, students are not likely to travel to three inconvenient locations for the cards just to take advantage of a minor convenience. City officials have said the $50 price tag was set for business professionals who park at meters on a regular basis. In fact, someone parking at a meter eight hours a day can easily burn through one $50 card every two weeks. But even campus professionals who might use the meters likely won’t as long as the meters aren’t U-Card compatible.
The city and the University must work together to overcome the new system’s student barriers. First, parking cards should be available in smaller denominations. Although students may park on city streets occasionally, they still make up an important part of the parking public. An easier method of payment will encourage more students to park at city meters rather than private ramps. Selling the cards in $10 increments makes sense for students, who might spend $50 a month on parking but can’t afford to pay it all up front. Students who spend less on parking wouldn’t be penalized either. Additionally, the cards ought to be sold at more locations — if not at Coffman Union, then perhaps at grocery stores, where bus passes are already sold.
The University should work with the city to make the meters U-Card compatible. This is a front on which administrators seem always in retreat. A few years ago U-Card officials considered making the card compatible with parking at ramps. Cash, however, is still king in University garages. The upgraded version of the U-Card, a smart card with an imbedded memory chip, is expected to offer a greater capacity of debit options in addition to compatibility with laundry and vending machines. When the cards come out, they should be fully compatible with the new generation of parking meters. After all, simplifying users’ lives is the concept behind both the new card and the new meters.