F rankly I don't care if York City installs 30 "smart" parking meters, 300 "smart" parking meters or just a few hundred old-fashioned parking meters, as long as they actually work the way they're supposed to work.
Permit me to tell you a story of a recent run-in I had with the city's parking meters located in the 400 block of West Market Street.
I pulled up in front of my dentist's office, got out of my car and deposited four quarters in the parking meter. That should have been enough for an hour's parking.
But it wasn't. And the reason it wasn't is the meter accepted my quarters but didn't register the time on the meter. I put the money in, but the little zeroes kept flashing at me to indicate I hadn't been credited with any time.
The darned thing wasn't working.
So I did what I thought was the smart thing to do -- I got back in my car and pulled forward one parking space. Shut off the car. Got out and started feeding that meter. Again, no dice. It took my money, but didn't give me any time.
By then, I was fairly well fed up with parking meters. But since I didn't want to get a parking ticket while I was inside the dentist's office, I got back in my car and pulled ahead one more parking space. Shut it off. Got back out -- for the third time -- and started feeding money into the meter.
Again, it didn't work. Three parking meters, three duds.
Finally, I asked my dentist for a piece of paper and a pen and wrote the meter attendant a note something like this: "I've already lost money in three parking meters, so please do not issue a parking ticket for this vehicle." I signed my name to it and stuck it under my windshield wiper.
Then I went inside and had a root canal.
Five months earlier, I pulled up outside my lawyer's office on East Market Street.
I plugged the meter with enough money to cover one hour and 15 minutes. It gave me credit on the meter. I checked my watch, so I knew the exact time. Then I went inside.
At one hour and five minutes, I told my lawyer I'd have to go back outside to put more money in the meter. And I did. Except by the time I got there, there was already a parking ticket on my windshield and not a meter reader in sight.
There still should have been time -- 10 minutes, at least -- on the meter, but there wasn't. Flashing zeroes. So the timing mechanism on that meter wasn't working.
I bitched, I moaned, I said a few cuss words under my breath. It didn't help matters at all.
Now in my younger days, when meter fines would have been $5, I would have fought the parking ticket. It would have been the principle of the thing.
This time, I did not. There was still a principle involved, but I didn't have time to run hither and yon to find the right person to get the ticket fixed. So I just paid the $20 fine and went on with my life.
Those are two of my most recent experiences with the city's parking meters. They keep collecting the money, they hold contests to beautify them, but they don't seem able to maintain the meters worth a darn.
At least not the meters I end up using.
Yes, I know mechanical devices -- parking meters, for example -- are going to occasionally break down. But three parking meters in a row, four blocks from Continental Square in what is primarily a residential area, all in disrepair at the same time?
I'm thinking that's not just coincidence -- it's either the worst luck in the world or a lack of fundamental meter maintenance.
So now I read where York City is in the process of testing "smart" parking meters -- 30 of them -- that will allow drivers to use either change or credit cards to pay for their metered parking.
"They're cute," one city visitor said last week.
Hey, forget cute. I don't care if the parking meters are ugly as sin as long as they work the way they're supposed to work.
If I pay a quarter for 15 minutes of parking, I expect to get 15 minutes parking. Not 12 minutes. Not 13 minutes. Not 14 minutes and 30 seconds. I want the full 15 minutes.
And when I put change in the meters, I fully expect the meter to credit me with an amount of parking equal to the amount of money I deposited.
As for using a credit card to pay a parking meter, I have my doubts.
How many times have I tried to pay for my purchase at Lowe's or the Giant grocery store, or Home Depot or any number of other retail stores, only to be frustrated because the system isn't working or wouldn't accept my card or the magnetic strip was defective?
Lots. And those devices are all kept inside the stores where they aren't affected by the weather. And there's always a live person standing there to help me solve the problem when something goes haywire.
So put a bunch of credit card readers on parking meters and subject them to a constant barrage of heat during the summer, rain, sleet and snow in the winter and see how well they work day in and day out. I'm thinking this could be a maintenance nightmare.
Probably not one that's going to show up in a 30-day experiment, either.
The solar- and battery-powered meters might be pretty iffy, too, given that the sun doesn't always shine, the streets are lined with shade trees and the batteries either need to be recharged or replaced on occasion.
And since I'm already pretty conservative about how often I use credit and debit cards to pay for my purchases, I'm probably not going to use them to pay for my street parking.
I'm not so sure the "smart" meters are the win-win deal some city officials might think they are.
Again, that maintenance thing.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.