Why Parking Meters Should be Outlawed

A Bit of History

In the spring of 2001 the History Channel, in their "History Lost and Found" series, did a short piece on where the first parking meter ever invented is currently at. It mentioned, in passing, that the first parking ticket issued was challenged in court as illegal. The premise was that you cannot charge people to park their cars on a public space on a street. By definition pubic means that no one owns it and thus a city cannot charge a person for using something that everyone owns. The city defense team knew that they would lose the case if they argued using that defense. They, instead, defended and won by using the defense strategy that a parking meter and any resulting ticket was to pay for the enforcement of the parking!

Think about that, you put money into a meter to provide a salary to the person to give you a ticket if you park too long in a public place - not the rental of a space! Thus, parking meters serve no valid reason other than to give money to the city to pay for a person to walk around giving tickets for people parking their car too long on a public street. Parking meters serve NO other useful purpose.

Why Are There Meters?

Here are some of same basic reasons that every city gives for parking meters (or any limited parking enforcement):

The Initial Cost to Install

A modern parking meter, complete with computerized metering, blinking lights, ability to accept credit cards and some even come with a wireless payment method, cost from $600 to $1,200 each. Meters are a reoccurring cost since you must factor in the cost of replacing existing ones every 15 to 20 years. Then there are brand new areas to install meters in as cities expand a meter zone (they always expand meter zones). Figure around $150 to install each meter. So a typical meter costs around $750 each.

$1,980,000 = 2640 * $750.00

To purchase and install meters.

Portland worked out a deal with the current state of the art meters to get them for free as a "trial" to see how they work. They use wireless to call in daily to report their take, need service, and other maintenance needs. (Fall, 2004 this occurred.)


Cities love meters - they are a "captive" income source. The city, unless you know someone or are a "public figure", the city will tow your car if you have too many tickets. A tow in Portland will cost a person at least $250.00 to get their car back. Thus they are using extortion and fear to ensure you meter when you park and if you fail to do that if you do not pay a parking ticket they will tow your vehicle.

This is the same things that individuals and gangs members are put in jail for demanding payment a city can do "legally" under the aegis of having the city government pass a rule stating that they can do it.
Democracy in action.
Note: Most people alive have NEVER had a chance to vote to install meters. How many governments have given their voters a chance to eliminate parking meters?

Meter Income

A two hour meter in Portland costs $.75 per hour. In a typical 8 AM till 6 PM day a meter can generate $7.50 per meter under ideal conditions. A city block averages 20 meters in a block (both sides of the street).

$150.00 = 20 * 7.50 (if fully used all day long)

In Portland there are around 1,320 blocks worth of metered / hourly parking. Some are 5 hour metered spots (which cost only $2.50 per 5 hours, and some are 15 minute spots which cost $.35 per 15 minutes). However, the figures provided are all based on the two hour meters. I did this due to the low number of 5 hour spots. Likely 10 percent of all spots are 5 hour / car pool spots; then there are an equal number of 15 minute spots with their higher price which tend to average out the long term parking spots in income.

There are parking areas along the road where there are no meters but are still time limited to two hours. You can, of course, get parking citations if a vehicle overstays that zone.

This results in the average daily parking meter income for Portland of:

Per day income of: $69,000 = $150.00 (per block) * 460 blocks of parking

(I estimate that there is at least a 35 x 30 city blocks worth of Portland parking meters, but not all streets allow parking: there are arterials, bus malls, etc.; so discounting those it comes down to around 23 x 20 blocks worth of parking zones.)

Sunday is a free parking day. So 6 days a week Portland gets meter income. This amounts to a possible maximum of:

Weekly Income: $414,000 = $69,000.00 * 6

Over a year's time then:

Yearly Income: $21,528,000 = $414,000.00 * 52

That is a lot of money.

This is based upon maximum meter usage every day for every meter (or zone) in the City of Portland.

Costs to Operate Meters

City governments tend to ignore a lot "hidden" costs for many public projects. The same is also true when they cite the cost / benefit of parking meters.


The lowest cost factor is the cost to actually run the meters. Portland is replacing all the mechanical meters with electrical ones (and/or Solar Powered). This means there is the ongoing electrical cost of operating them 24 / 7 schedule. (Maybe fifty cents per day?). Since there are some 2,640 estimated meters in Portland, that means the cost of electricity is around :

$1,320 per day.
or $68,640 per year

Replacing individual meters with a central station for each side of a block saves money on electricity, but now there is the cost of paper, cell phone costs (they use phones to dial home and report in), plus network security costs, network hardware costs of that plus other hidden costs of operation which is not broken down in detail in any public document.


The real major cost to operate the meters is the cost of personnel to write the tickets. These people do not walk around of course, they ride around on carts so they can cover more ground. Note that there is a 10 hour day for parking - and a person only works 8 hours per day. Thus, there either has to be some overlap in personnel in order to cover the permitted time limit or they work four 10 hour days.

The basic business rule is that whatever the salary of a person is you double it to get the true costs of having that person on board - health benefits, retirement benefits, office space and other overhead costs needed to support that person. With a low salary of some $30,000 (just under twice the minimum wage) per year that means the real cost per parking ticketing (citation) person is some:

$60,000 a year.

The number of parking meter people I have not been able to ascertain yet. Based on the time factor that they must note every car in a block at least every two hours so they can write tickets, taking 3 minutes per block to note cars there, which would mean they can cover 20 blocks (Note: only 1 side of them of course) per hour, which means that each person can only cover 40 half blocks of cars before they have to revisit to give a ticket in a two hour slot. (You cannot keep your car for 4 hours in a 2 hour spot even if you pay, you have to move your car out of that spot. See more on this later on.) Thus, each ticketer can only cover 20 blocks worth of parking (both sides of street). As noted above there are some 1,050 blocks worth of parking. So this results in:

26 people = 1,050 (blocks) / 40 (blocks per person)
Salary cost per year: $1,560,000.00 = 26 * 60,000

which cover direct salary and benefits.

This, however, cannot be the total number of people. People go on vacation, sick leave, overlaps and so on so there has to be more people than just 26 to ensure coverage all the time. Since every person will be gone at least two week a year on vacation, and 1 week on sick leave, that means 99 weeks have to be covered by others. That adds in at least 2 more people. As mentioned earlier the meters run for 10 hours a day and there are only 8 hours per workday (else overtime kicks in; they could also be working four 10 hour shifts but that still leaves 2 days to be covered) so that means an additional 8 people are needed to cover for those two hours (or 2 days if working four 10s.) That means there has to be around 10 more people than the 26 to ensure adequate coverage which makes 43 working people.

$2,160,000.00 = 36 * 60,000

Now in Portland there are also non-metered time limited parking which I have factored into the block coverage. These blocks also have to be patrolled for parking violations. There are around 200 blocks worth of parking that fall into this category. (This is going down each year as they convert them to metered parking!)

Now these people cannot just go around and do their job. They have to be supervised! The basic premise in management that 1 person can only supervise at most 12 people. (Now you know why a military squad is set at 12 people usually.) That means you must have at least 5 supervisors for these people to do timecards, schedules etc. The managers cannot do everything. You also need support staff in clerical, a overall parking meter division person, payroll support, money counting division (got to count those coins somehow!), armored transport to move the coins to banks, receiving personnel to handle the ticket payments being mailed in, auditors to ensure everything is done according to whatever accounting procedures they decided to use, judges for handling cases that are challenged, computer support personnel to handle the data tracking of the tickets, the tickets themselves, signs to put onto the meters (and other parking restricted zones signs), the people to maintain the vehicles they use and likely I few more that I overlooked.

Some of these people are low pay people, the same as the ticket writers, but the majority are very highly paid (judges, computer support personnel, auditors). I would expect the average wage that they would earn is $45,000 a year. According to some financial columnists at Fisher Investments Forbes Magazine, the salaries for these professions can vary from $20,000 to $150,000 per year. Double that to add in the cost of retirement, workman's compensation, FICA, taxes etc. to $90,000 per person.

There are likely 20 other people doing these support rolls. These people are the "hidden" costs that people who do these proposals never count when stating their case before any city council.

$1,800,000.00 = 20 * 90,000

This means the expense of direct and hidden people can easily come to $3,960,000 a year.

Vehicle Costs

Specialized parking meter vehicles have to be purchased and I would guess that these run around $4,000 each.

Now you still must add into this the cost of fuel, insurance, maintenance (and personnel!), spare parts etc. I have no way of finding that out. Basic cost to get vehicles though would come to at least:

$ 172,000 = 43 * 4,000

Total costs:

$4,132,000.00 per year to run a meter program in Portland, Oregon. (LOW estimate.)

Profit and Loss

Given the potential income of some 21 million dollars, and the cost of running the program at 4+ million, what happened to the 15 MILLION dollars that was generated from the meter program?

Granted, they will never get a full 15 million dollars. There are 11 holidays observed, times when the meters are not fully used, meter personnel do not come by on time so the they do not give out tickets (and the meters are not fed) so if you give a generous 20% "wastage" time, that still puts the likely income at around $12 million dollars.

But what is done with this profit?

(Note: I found some prior Portland city budget documents online and from what I could see from the graphs and line items the income they noted from meters was, $12 million a year. Overall transportation budget per year was $54 million.)

Business Productivity Losses

Another one of those factors that the people who dream up rules (and which every President - Republican or Democrat - is trying to address in proposals) is the cost of any public law or policy. Like Measure 7 that passed in 2000 (and immediately appealed) what is the impact to people, businesses of a law and should they be compensated for the "greater good"?

When people use parking meters, or even just timed parking places, there is a cost.

Every two hours a worker must leave their desk, go to the car, move it to a different block, feed a new meter, and then get back to work.

They just lost 15 minutes of productivity from that person.

Figure in that at least 2600 people do that 4 times a day and there goes a whole hour of work.

But there are more than 2600 people doing that. There is also the non-metered parking spaces in Portland. So you have to add in another 1000 people who spend 15 minutes 4 times a day moving their car.

So, that means there are around 3,600 people who waste a whole hour a day moving their car (and wasting gas). Portland is a high cost of living city so even putting the average worker's wage at a low $15 per hour per person that means $54,000 a day of productivity is wasted. To put it into a better perspective $14,040,000 worth of productivity is lost each year by just moving cars in Portland.

Wasted Space

As mentioned, there are non-metered spaces in Portland. The non-metered but timed parking spaces hold 25% MORE cars than metered parking areas! The "rules" made up by parking engineers state that every space must be 18 feet long, and have a 6 foot space between each space. This means that if a 12 foot car parks in an 18 foot space there is 12 feet between it and the next car. Along a block that has 10 parking meters only 10 cars can park, but a block with no meters will have, on average, 13 cars along it. Thus, by putting in meters there is a 25% wastage of space that could be used for cars to park!

If you got rid of parking meters there would be 25% more space for cars to park!

Also, if instead of parallel parked cars they had angle in parking (like in most small towns) an additional 50% more cars could park than now.

Lost Business

How many times have you said, or heard, people say they do not want to go downtown to shop due to the problems associated with parking? Every time that happens that means there is less business being done downtown. Yet these SAME businesses pay the highest property taxes, business taxes, inventory taxes, impact taxes, and so on to operate down there. Many businesses will also validate parking so people will come down to shop and therefore pick up the $5 to $10 parking fee. Which means they must raise their overall selling price to pay for the cost of shoppers parking downtown. And then these governments wonder why people go to malls (free parking) to shop and why the costs are lower there!

Customer / Residence Frustration

The most contentious issue in most any city is parking. Our nation is built on, and relies on, the ability of people to use their own vehicles to get from one place to another. There is NO way to change that due to the size of our nation. Before cars there were horses and the same problems that are experienced now were experienced then. That is why people would be routinely hung for stealing a horse.

Where the Money Goes

The money that Portland earns from parking meters, and tickets given to over parked cars / owners (roughly $2 million a year) goes into the "General Fund" account. This means it is spend on whatever the city government wants. Usually these are "feel good" projects that benefit a fraction of a percent of the population but makes the government "feel good" that it has done something.

The money is NOT dedicated back to fixing streets, building FREE garages for downtown businesses so customers can shop or anything that will benefit the people who live, work and do business downtown. In 2002 the city of Portland decided that it is going to add onto the water bill a $2.00 fee (per month) to help pay for the repair of streets in the city! Yet the money earned from parking meters goes elsewhere when it really SHOULD be used to repair streets and build garages for parking is spent elsewhere with no accountability to the people who paid the fees.

With profits of $13 million a year, they could easily build an eight story garage every year for the next 5 years to resolve the parking problems in Portland. What's more, they could build them UNDER the parks in the city so to leave the land for other businesses to use. This would promote more people to shop downtown, stop people from parking in neighborhoods (and the permit parking programs they institute in those neighborhoods to ensure that only local residents park in there, hence people hired for parking patrol in there!), lower the cost of doing business downtown, and lower the lost productivity of businesses caused by people running in and out of work to move their cars.

What Can be Done?

Any Government's 1st rule is to ensure that no other government takes over.

Their 2nd rule is to never stop taking money from a powerless group. People paying meters are a powerless group since we pay as individuals. There is no organized union, no business association that can hire people full time to lobby and go before city governments and protest parking meters. It is all done by staff people, budget people, "social engineers" on staff (usually set by the mayor and by whom they hire onto their staff) and lots of other background people who will get the money from others for their pet projects funded by the General Fund. When it comes up for a vote the majority of the people in the government have a vested interest to get it passed since it will fund THEIR pet projects or social agendas. I have never heard of a town where citizens got a vote before a city government to remove parking meters.

Measure $

The only way I can ever see, in Oregon at least, of getting rid of parking meters is if people ever sponsored a petition to outlaw parking meters in all of Oregon. This is one universal matter that would be supported by every common citizen and opposed by every city with parking meters in it.

I would expect it to pass at the 85% level.

The only other petition that I see as worthwhile is if a petition stated that all money earned from city parking meters (and garages) had to be directed back for road improvements and to build no cost parking structures ONLY. I am sure that too would pass at the 85% level.

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