May 2, 2016

Finding Parking in the City: Your Prayers to the Meter Gods Answered

My aunt prays to a parking angel who helps her find parking spots in Manhattan. She circles a few times, stops, closes her eyes, and whispers, “Oh, help me, parking angel.” On the next go round, a spot appears. I’ve witnessed this on several occasions, and it actually works—well, like 25% of the time. The rest of the time, it seems like the parking angel has gone on break. (It may be a union thing.)

It goes without saying that whatever higher powers exist probably have better things to do than help my aunt find a parking spot directly in front of the Gap. The great gods of technology, however, are on it. There’s now a phone-full of apps and services to guide mere mortals toward a 2-hour-no meter-on-street spot within walking distance of their ultimate destinations. Assistance like this is a good thing to have in your back pocket. So the next time you’re hunting for parking downtown, you’ll be able to find a space without divine intervention. (Hallelujah.)

In the eternal search for parking, technology can be your savior. Image via GiphyIn the eternal search for parking, technology can be your savior. Image via Giphy

Tip #1: SpotHero is your hero.

I hesitate to tell you about this, because it’s so great I’m afraid everyone will use it and…poof, there goes my sweet hook-up. SpotHero lets you reserve private parking spaces in city garages and open air lots for a fraction of the cost. Similar apps offer comparable parking arrangements, so try out a few and pick your fave. Parking Panda, despite its adorable name, uses your GPS location (and not cuddly zoo animals) to find and save you parking spots. Whichever app you choose, the concept, in general, is pretty sweet. Driving up to one of those $35-a-day parking establishments when you’ve reserved a space ahead of time for $12 makes you feel like you’ve got life all figured out.

Tip #2: Master meter madness on your mobile.

How many times have you had to go to a bank for a fresh roll of quarters or raid your child’s piggy bank just to plug the parking meter? (Don’t judge. That little meter monster chomps down quarters like a skinny guy at a Coney Island hot dog eating contest.) Well, modern technology has intervened to make life easier, finally.

Parking meters in Boston, for example, have basically remained the same since the Eisenhower administration. Making up for lost time, the past five years have ushered in a transition from those dusty old meters that only take quarters (why?????!) to ones that accept credit cards. Last year, the Park Boston app launched to great cheering in the streets. Cities like NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago all have their own parking meter alternatives that let you pay via app. Park Boston is a savvy application that lets you punch in a code for the zone where you parked and pay for it digitally. The large, easy-to-follow countdown and ability to re-up for another hour if you need to, make it extra handy. It still limits the total parking time to four hours max. Nobody’s perfect.

Uh, what?? Image courtesy of Michael BrouilletUh, what?? Image courtesy of Michael Brouillet

Tip #3: Learn (parking) sign language.

You know those undecipherable parking signs that tell you that it’s only legal to park after 2 pm, but before 8 pm, except Sundays, evenings, or during full moons? This quick hit from the Louis CK show nails it. Too bad he didn’t know about Park It NYC.

Despite earning nearly $600 million a year in parking ticket revenue, the city recognizes that the signs are, indeed, a headache. Park It NYC and NYC’s Department of Transportation website try to throw NYers a line to keep them from drowning in a sea of ambiguous municipalese. Smarter design, like these guerrilla signs by Nikki Sylianteng, would also improve parking in the Big Apple—big time. Maybe one day… 

30% of city traffic is people cruising looking for parking.30% of city traffic is people cruising looking for parking.

Tip #4: Supply and demand are your friends.

Despite the ratio of cars to drivers in Los Angeles, the ratio of cars to parking spots doesn’t nearly measure up. “Challenge accepted!” say the folks behind a city-sponsored initiative called LA Express Park. The video on LA Express Park’s homepage describes it as a one year “demonstration” that includes 6,000 smart meters, thousands of street sensors, and real-time, on-demand pricing strategies that will make parking in downtown LA a lot easier. Electronic signs and a connected app guide LA drivers toward legal, available parking in the busy downtown area. When demand is high, rates go up, when it’s low, they go down. Plus, a clear path to your space without unnecessary circling or idling is good for the environment. LA has some of the most congested streets in the world. Ongoing efforts put this streetwise solution at the center of a new, “smart parking” movement. 

The goal of the smarter parking movement is streets, cars, and technology working together in one harmonious symphony. Image via GiphyThe goal of the smarter parking movement is streets, cars, and technology working together in one harmonious symphony. Image via Giphy

Tip #5: Let car sharing take care of the hassle.

No car, no need for a parking spot, no duh. It makes life a lot easier to not have a 2,000-pound nuisance you constantly have to move around the city. Of course, sometimes you do need a car, which makes car sharing handy. Zipcar has wheels located downtown, on college campuses, by train stations…and in thousands more locations throughout the city and around the world. The new flexible service in Boston, LA, and Denver (with more cities to come) lets you pick up a Zipcar at one spot and drop it off in another spot that you select when you book. It makes you feel like a VIP: very important parker.

Tip #6: Write your wrongs.

Okay, so despite all your best efforts, you wind up making a mistake and getting a ticket. Nothing ruins an afternoon like seeing one of those brightly colored envelopes under your windshield wiper. Wait, is that a flyer for a new DJ night??? No…. it’s a ticket. (Please note, if you get a parking ticket in a Zipcar, you’re getting a parking ticket.) 

If you feel like you’ve been wrongly accused, you do have recourse. Go online to your city’s .gov page to find out about the rules for contesting a parking ticket. You might have to brush up on your 5th grade English class skills of business letter writing (“To Whom It May Concern…”). Unfortunately, this is not going to be a dramatic Law and Order type situation where you draw schematics on a whiteboard and utter the phrase, “THEN YOU ADMIT IT!” It will probably be limited to correspondence via snail mail. So if you win, you will feel vindicated and save some dough, but your victory will likely not be fodder for a My Cousin Vinny remake. You don’t know that movie? What??? Stop reading this and go watch it right now. We’ll wait.

Learn more about Zipcar for Business.