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2005 09 23
Parking meter v2.0

"The era of parking meters is coming to an end in Toronto.” So claims the Canadian Solar Industries Association. The meters, as announced in a CSIA press release, are being replaced by “pay-and-display kiosks” supplied by Cale Systems Inc., a company that builds "hybrid payment terminals” (Pay-and-display kiosk: much more sexy, more technologically advanced than plain old parking meter. Don’t you think?)

Beginning in 1999, when Toronto kicked off the replacement program, thousands of old-school meters, the ones you crank like a gumball machine, have been ripped from the ground and replaced with new high-tech timepieces. The old had become obsolete. Something like what happened to Arnold Schwartzeneger’s character in Terminator 2 when he was replaced by T1000 robot Robert Patrick—only, in the movie, he kills the more advanced robot. In real life, the old parking meters don't survive.

(What they don’t explain in the press release is that the kiosks also replaced many human attendants who worked for Toronto Parking Authority in the Green P lots scattered throughout the city. But that’s a different story.)

Well, that’s progress.


As much as some like to cling to the past and fight change every step of the way (c’mon, like there aren’t one or two parking meter preservationists out there?) some things need to be updated. And let’s face it—the latest generation of microchip-managed gadgets is quite amazing.

Nearly 2,000 devices have been bolted to the pavement across the city. Each is completely wireless, using energy stored in its solar panel array at the top of the unit—it can capture 10 watts—so no electrical hook-up is necessary. And it talks to the big brain over the cellular phone network, calling up HQ to summon attendants to feed it paper when the ticket printer is low or clean out the coins when its belly is full. And are they ever efficient: each can replace up to a dozen conventional devices, requiring many fewer units for purchase and that much less maintenance. (All that adds up to savings. Ka-ching!)

In fact, Toronto has many different “intelligent” meters in place. For instance the machines in the lot beneath Paramount theatre on Richmond Street dispense large, heavy poker chip-like tokens that can count the minutes your vehicle has been parked underground. When you’re ready to leave the lot, you slip the token into a payment terminal where it determines the parking fee. (You can even pay with a credit card! Convenience.) And the new Pearson airport parking garage uses slips of paper with a code tattooed across it to calculate how many quarters you owe.

Occasionally, you’ll come across an old meter still standing. It’s hard to resist feeding it a few coins and cranking the dial. And it’s a little sad to think that it, too, will be replaced eventually. Watching the changeover is sort of like seeing history being erased, or watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the action is happening onscreen and I’m sitting on my couch, helpless to rescue the meters from the scrap pile.

[email this story] Posted by Derek Chezzi on 09/23 at 09:03 AM

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