Parking card replaces pocketful of coins

The Baltimore Sun

Bill Gant no longer carries rolls of quarters to pay for the 50-cents-an-hour metered parking in downtown Bel Air. Instead, he carries a debit card for use with digitized meters that the town debuted this month.

The Bond/Thomas Street parking lot has 17 new digitized parking meters. Designed for convenience, the new black meters accept nickels, dimes, silver dollars and quarters. But the devices also take the Smartcard, which works like a debit card that can hold up to $100.

"I was putting quarters in the meter for 20 years," Gant said after sliding his card into a meter when leaving recently.

After swiping the meter, the user punches in the desired amount of time in 30-minute increments.

One feature that town officials are promoting is the new devices eliminate overpaying for parking. If a user pays with coins for two hours of parking and only parks for an hour, the extra money is lost. By using the new card, a user who leaves before the time is expired can regain the leftover minutes, and thus cost, by swiping the card.

Gant, who works at the Harford County Courthouse, used to become frustrated when he pumped a heap of quarters into the meter, only to have to leave early.

"I feel like I don't have to watch the clock anymore," he said.

Added Bel Air Police Chief Leo Matrangola, "Who walks around with six hours worth of quarters in their pockets, anyway?"

In addition to saving customers money, the new meters benefit the city because only half as many of the units are needed, he said. One device, which costs about $400, serves two spaces. The older, gray mechanical meter, which costs about $300, serves one space.

Bel Air is the first community in the county to feature the digitized meters. Debit parking cards are used in cities including Miami, New York and Philadelphia.

"We've been behind on technology, so it's good to make some progress that way," said Bel Air Mayor Terence Hanley. "Clearly, it's going to be a convenience for folks as well."

The cards can be purchased at Bel Air's Finance Department in the town offices on Hickory Avenue, with an initial $4 fee for the card.

"We're not trying to rob people and make a profit," Matrangola said. "Our goal is to control spaces and give people quick access at an affordable rate."

Fewer coins in the meters means less bulk to be lugged around by Bel Air parking enforcement officers, when they make the rounds to empty the devices.

If all goes well during the trial period in the Bond and Thomas Street lot, more of the meters will be installed in Bel Air's remodeled Main Street, said Lisa Moody, the town's finance director.

Since the meters debuted June 8, the city has sold eight cards. Gant purchased the fifth.

"When I left in the middle of the day, I'd lose all that money I fed the meter," he said. "Now I just don't worry about that anymore."

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