Parking Authority Blog

Why We Should All Love Parking Meters







Parking meters!  Ugh. Who would like parking meters? Why do we even have the darn things?

Well… they exist to solve a problem, not to drive you crazy.  As a matter of fact, they were invented to solve that problem. 

In the mid-1930’s, downtown workers in Oklahoma City parked in the most convenient parking spaces for them – on-street parking spaces in the heart of downtown, in front of the buildings where they worked.  But, those buildings also housed restaurants and shops.  This wasn’t a problem for those workers, but it was a big problem for those restaurants and shops.  Because all of the spaces in closest proximity to their establishments were occupied all day by downtown workers, their customers had to park in lots or on-street at the edges of town, blocks away.  Their customers didn’t like that, and they began to lose business. 

In 1935, Oklahoma City leaders turned to a couple of professors at Oklahoma State University to help solve the problem.  Their solution was the parking meter!  Parking meters were installed at on-street parking spaces throughout downtown Oklahoma City, charging a nickel per hour to park.  Downtown workers, unwilling to pay forty to fifty cents to park all day, started parking in the lots on the edges of downtown where parking was cheaper or free.  Patrons of downtown shops and restaurants then had convenient on-street places to park, and they didn’t mind paying five or ten cents for that privilege.

Why parkers should love parking meters

If you are coming to Baltimore to do some shopping, to eat at a restaurant, or to visit an attraction for a few hours, don’t you want to park at the spaces that are most convenient and closest to your destination?  If you have to park too far away, then you’re probably not going to patronize that shop, restaurant, or attraction.  Just like in Oklahoma City 80 years ago, parking meters help to create that availability of convenient on-street parking spaces for short-term parkers.

Why businesses should love parking meters

Who are the most important people to a business?  A business’ customers, of course!  Without customers, and the revenue they bring to businesses, businesses simply could not survive.  If their customers are less likely to patronize a business if they have to park further away, any business should love a tool that helps to make the closest parking spaces available to their customers.  Parking meters do just that!

Why everyone in cities should love parking meters

There is never an unlimited supply of parking anywhere, especially in urban areas.  So, in order to make the most efficient use of the limited supply of parking, you need to manage it well and “spread” the demand for parking. 

Everyone would love to park in that one space that is closest to their destination.  However, obviously, not everyone can.  While short-term parkers – shoppers, diners, or people visiting a museum or other attraction – are often unwilling to park more than a few blocks from their destination, longer-term parkers – workers in the area or people who plan to spend the entire day there – are often willing to walk a few more blocks to and from their destination, especially if the cost to park all day is less at those other parking options.  If parking meter rates are correct, they should help with that equation.  Parking meter rates should be set so that, relative to off-street parking options, they are a bargain for parking stays of 4 hours or less, but are more expensive than off-street parking for stays of 5 hours or more.  When parking meter rates are, in that way, correct, longer-term parkers will park off-street, thereby freeing close and convenient on-street parking spaces for shorter-term parkers.  It is through that smart use of parking meters that a city’s total parking resources (on-street; off-street; public; and private) are most fully realized, and that’s good for everyone.

OK, so you still may not LIKE to pay the parking meter (really, who does?), but now you can love that the parking meter is there because you know it helped you find the parking space in the first place.

November 1, 2016

Pete Little, Executive Director, PABC

Additional Reading

4 Reasons Retailers Don't Need Free Parking to Thrive
by Eric Jaffe, The Atlantic CityLab, November 26, 2012

'Free' Parking at Christmas, and a Newbie
by John VanHorn, Parking Today

‘Charity Spaces’ an Answer to Parking Holidays
by Donald Shoup, Parking Today

Related Stories

Pay-by-Cellphone Coming Soon to Baltimore!

October 31, 2018

Pete Little, Executive Director, PABC

Archived Blog - June 22, 2018

Measuring for Success

June 22, 2018

Archived Blog - March 23, 2018

"Virtual" Parking Permits May Soon Be a Reality

March 23, 2018