Living Here

Meter Eaters

A new SmartMeter method saves money…and face.

By Eric Gold August 15, 2012 Published in the December 2007 issue of Portland Monthly

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MAYBE IT’S OUR laid-back, coffee-shop culture. Or our lack of more than one major professional sports team. Or maybe it’s our tendency to shut down the city when more than four snowflakes appear. Whatever the reason, in some circles, Portland has a reputation for being rather wussy. And if part of the city’s reasoning for reprogramming its parking meters is true, we deserve it.

Until September, the city’s 1,300 SmartMeters issued your window sticker before your bank or credit card was even checked—that’s why the transaction sometimes didn’t show up on your bank statement for days. The process also allowed some folks to get away with parking for free by using expired or otherwise invalid cards. (The city lost about $5,000 this way annually.) Now the machines process cards on the spot—although it takes an eon for the sticker to print. Still, the change will save the city half a million dollars a year, because it no longer has to pay a third party to review transactions. That seems like a darned good reason to spend the $2 million it costs to reboot all the machines. But apparently it’s not the only one.

The upgrade also means the machines don’t hold onto cards as long, a change the city, in a press release, says it hopes will “make customers more comfortable and confident that the machine hasn’t ‘eaten’ their bankcard.” Cheryl Kuck, public information officer for the Office of Transportation, says the department used to field at least two calls a week from drivers concerned about their cards. It seems that in Portland, where ATMs have been around for more than three decades, some of us still aren’t comfortable temporarily surrendering our plastic.

Kuck also points out that the speedier card return will enable users to make a quick getaway if anything in their surroundings should spook them. Like, say, their shadows.

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