When Will They Ever Learn?

Wet and cloudy meter screen.By David M. Feehan

I am going to be kind and not identify the exact location where the meter pictured in this photo is located. Suffice it to say that I was attending a meeting in a Washington D.C., suburb on a rainy evening. As usual, I was running late and did not have a pocket full of quarters. Surely the meters would either accept credit cards or would have a pay-by-cell option. But after I parked and waded through a puddle of water along the curb. I found that the meter was totally unreadable.

What to do? I inserted my credit card. There was no sign indicating a pay-by-cell option. The meters didn’t seem to have a number code. It was rainy and dark.

I work with parking companies and parking operators. I was also thinking about my wife and how she hates parking. She is not alone. In the research my co-authors Barbara Chance, PhD, and Carol Becker, a city official in Minneapolis, did for our book, “Design Downtown for Women–Men Will Follow,” the No. 1 thing most women hate about downtown is parking.

Gender would have made no difference on this rainy night. No one could read this meter. The choices? Enter the meeting late after trying to find a shop that would give me change and risk having to stand all evening as a latecomer; pull my credit card and hope that it somehow read the card and gave me time; or simply walk away and take a chance on a $40 citation.

Today, I wrote the parking management office and sent them a note and the photo. I know how much it costs to replace a whole meter system. I also know that sooner or later these meters will be replaced. When that time comes, think about a cold, rainy night. Think about a customer standing in the rain, peering at an unreadable screen and wondering what to do. Think about how the new meters you are considering would function in rain, snow, and sleet. Be very user conscious and think about that out-of-town visitor without the right app on her cell phone or a pocket full of quarters. Think carefully when you replace those old meters.

David M. Feehan is president of Civitas Consultants, LLC.