Search this site:


December 8, 2004 12:24 AM

Broken: Parking meter

ParkingmeterChris Clark writes from Western Australia:

This parking meter (and its brethren) charge 60 cents per hour. That's pretty reasonable, but the fine print: "60 cents per hour or part thereof" is something you won't find on the machine itself, nor will you notice until you drop a 50-cent coin in the slot only to be told you've bought precisely zero minutes worth of parking.

Across the street you can get parking at the same rate, but without the catch. Ten cents will buy you ten minutes, just the way you'd expect it to. Senseless.


I think this post is a lot like the last one. I expect parking meters to let you pay in fractional amounts of their hourly rate, but that's only because I am used to it. It's not broken to charge people for a full hour---this is how most phone charges work (you pay for the full minute even if you use only one second).

What amazes me is that another parking meter across the street does not work the same way! I mean, I'd prefer to have international standards on parking meters as well, but at the very least the ones on the same street should be identical! That is broken.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at December 8, 2004 07:57 AM

Nowhere on the meter does it say "10 cents for 10 minutes". Why is it broken? It's somewhat silly to have a meter that you pay for full hours at a time, but there's nothing misleading about it.

What would make you think it's 10 cents/10 minutes? Why not 1 cent/min? Why not 22 cents/22 minutes? There's no way of intuitively breaking down what the increments would be, so one would have to assume that you're paying for a full hour.

Sheesh, first the post about the dog gnawing on the dead cat (with accompanying picture), then yesterday's obvious post about the end of a pedestrian path, now this one. I submitted one weeks ago that I thought was more interesting, but I suppose it wasn't.

Posted by: Manni at December 8, 2004 09:54 AM

They trick people into donating money to help pay for the expensive-looking meters! he-he

As an American, I'm not clear on what "Clearway 7am to 9am" means. Maybe "no parking" or "free parking"?

Posted by: Bob Sifniades at December 8, 2004 11:00 AM

It seems logical to me that the price advertised would be the the price for the smallest increment you can buy.

The other option would be something like "25c/30min, quarters only".

Posted by: Reed at December 8, 2004 01:08 PM

This is utterly irrelevant, but Subiaco is the lovliest city I've ever been to...

Posted by: Yank at December 8, 2004 01:45 PM

Parking meters are fascist no matter what country they're in, IMHO.

There was a flap in my university town when the campus parking meters went from mechanical gadgets that would accept nickels, dimes, and quarters (5c, 10c, and 25c for the non-Americans present more used to kroners, thalers, shillings and the like) and meter time proportionally to digital gadgets that would only accept quarters and then only for lesser time on the meter.

What was doubly broken was that they would TAKE the other coins, they just wouldn't credit them. The instructions on the meter made no mention of the denomination or rate change, either.

The insult to injury of parking meters is when they're enforced regardless of available spaces. Parking meters were invented as a way to ensure fair usage of a limited resource, when there are more cars than spaces in a busy business district, for instance. Now they're used in a usurious fashion to extort money from the very customers of a business district already bringing their custom and tax revenue in. You should never have to put money in the meter or risk a ticket if there are more empty spaces than full!

Posted by: Erich at December 8, 2004 03:53 PM

It's better than it saying 60 cents Per Hour - This machine only accepts dollar bills (and keeping the 'No Change Given' part, of course).

Posted by: Trevor Hall at December 8, 2004 05:05 PM

If you pay 50 cents for a $1 burger, do you get half a burger? No! If you put down $50,000 on a $100,000 house, do they just cordon off the upstairs? No! They have their units and until you pay for the full unit they are not going to give you anything.

The one across the street merely has different units. Not broken. At all.

And the fact that you say "Well, they should all be the same, especially across the street" is like saying "This program should work on both my computers, even though one is a Mac and the other a PC". Both systems exist for their own reasons.

Capitalism (Or at least, a non-state-controlled-economy) gives us the ability to choose which systems are best, and weeds out the rest (in theory).

Posted by: Jim King at December 8, 2004 06:41 PM

I don't think this is broken.

"Clearway" between 7am and 9am means no stopping between 7am and 9am ie rush hour.

This machine will charge you 60c per hour even if you park there for 1 second.

Eg if you are going to buy a clock for $5, can you get a quarter of the clock for $1.25. This is same idea on the machine.

Posted by: Mark at December 8, 2004 06:56 PM

What is really broken is the concept of charging people for PARKING ON THE STREET!! I wonder why some cities charge citizens for parking in a place that, by definition, is public and free for everyone to use. A different thing is to prohibit parking on certain streets or avenues, because in the interest of the majority, it's best to leave some streets without any cars parked on it. But, again, charging for parking in streets where it is allowed, is an abuse and a total rip-off. If I pay a certain amount of money, I expect a benefit, a service, in exchange for my money. In this case, I haven't been able to identify even a single benefit for the money deposited in a parking meter. Parking meters should be illegal and banned around the whole world.

Posted by: sam at December 9, 2004 02:08 PM

Sam: parking meters are basically another type of taxing.

An off-topic question that I haven't found an appropriate place for, so I guess I'll just put it here: How does Mark keep this site from being bombarded from spambots? This is such an updated and popular blog that I'd think they'd be all over it.

Posted by: never mind that at December 9, 2004 07:16 PM

I think this is broken insofar as the mechanical meters used for so long have always accepted any amount of change and have given the appropriate amount of time.

Posted by: Maurs at December 9, 2004 07:17 PM

In response to Sam's comment, actually, in most cities, the street is the city/town's property, not the public's. For example, and this happened in my town about a month ago, if lightning hits a tree that resides on private property and causes this tree to fall onto the road, then the city has to remove it from the road, since they own the road. However, they are NOT required to cart the tree parts away, since it originally resided on private property. As it happened in real life, the city can just dump the tree parts on the owner's property, since that's where it was originally.

Posted by: Ryan at December 9, 2004 09:21 PM

I think this is broken.

Mechanical parking meters have always used fractional fees, and it was easy to change the fractions when the total went up. The minimum coin size is specified on every mechanical meter I've seen, which prevents the use of pennies.

Manni said:

"There's no way of intuitively breaking down what the increments would be."

60 Cents / Hour

60 Minutes / Hour

Seems pretty intuitive to me. I think that's part of the reason this is broken, because it doesn't follow the strong intuitive hint.

Posted by: Ken at December 11, 2004 11:37 PM


Parking meters have always accepted anything better than a penny in my experience, although sometimes you don't get as good a deal from a smaller coin due to rounding.

If they are going to change the pattern they should make it very clear that the behavior is different. Otherwise, people will assume the normal behavior.

Posted by: Loren at December 12, 2004 03:13 PM

Things are Broken™ if they defy user expectations, and since this parking meter works contrary to the expectations built by every other meter I've ever used, I've submitted it as broken. Comparing this to buying half a hamburger or a quarter of a clock is ridiculous, and it doesn't analog to this situation -- those products are indivisible.

When I go to the butcher, beef mince might be marked $11 per kilogram, but I can still buy 200 grams; when I make phone calls I'm charged by the second; and when I buy petrol I don't have to buy it in 1 liter increments despite the fact that it's priced "per liter" on the sign.

Users are coming to expect to pay only for what they use, and so they should. Providing a good user experience is what companies need to do to survive, and this site was built to teach those companies what not to do. This parking meter is broken.

Posted by: Chris Clark at December 28, 2004 05:36 PM

Comments on this entry are closed

Previous Posts: