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Kelly J. Cooper

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A thought problem [Sep. 22nd, 2006|01:38 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
Hypothetical scenarios for your consideration. Discussion questions at the end.

Scenario 1:

Joe parks his beat-up Honda on Oxford Street at noon. He loads the meter with four quarters (the two hour maximum) and heads off to his appointment.

The meter reader walks by at 12:25pm and makes a note of Joe's license plate and the time in her handheld, because parking has a two hour limit (i.e. no meter feeding).

At 1:57pm, I walk by, notice he has 3 minutes left on his meter, and drop a quarter in.

At 2:10pm, the meter reader does another pass. Joe's meter has money and he hasn't been there for more than two hours according to her handheld. Joe doesn't get a ticket. Joe returns at 2:15pm. He drives away.

Joe is happy that he didn't get ticket. But Cambridge has lost out on the potential revenue from his paying a ticket.

Scenario 2:

Jane parks her minivan on Oxford Street at noon. She loads the meter with four quarters (the two hour maximum) and heads off to her appointment.

The meter reader walks by at 12:05pm and makes a note of Jane's license plate and the time in her handheld.

At 1:57pm, I walk by, notice she has 3 minutes left on her meter, so I drop a quarter in.

At 2:06, the meter reader does another pass. Jane's meter has money BUT she's been there for more than two hours. She gets a ticket. Jane returns to her car at 2:10pm. She's confused. The meter has time on it but she's gotten a ticket. She doesn't understand and she's distressed. It doesn't occur to her that she's been parked there for more than two hours because there's time on the meter. It doesn't occur to her that random strangers have done stuff that she will never know about.

However, Cambridge will probably get the revenue from her ticket payment.

For discussion:

If I drop a quarter in the meter, either of these scenarios (and probably others) could occur.

Is it better to potentially prevent someone from getting a ticket, despite the possibility that I might cause confusion?

Am I doing more harm than good by denying Cambridge their ticket money?

This is the kind of stuff I think about when I'm walking around the city and/or when meditating on performing acts of random kindness.

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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-09-22 04:50 am (UTC)
That's a good question. I don't know how town budgets work. Perhaps they rely upon some minimum amount of money that they consistently make and anything above that, they get to use as mad money?

It reminds me of the people who are designing meters that zero out when the person drives away, so cities can make more money off the meters. Sure it makes business sense, but yucko.

I'm actually more worried about freaking people out. This is supposed to be an act of KINDNESS, not one of irritation or confusion inducement.
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[User Picture]From: madbodger
2006-09-22 01:15 pm (UTC)
Most municipalities don't derive much of their revenue from parking ticket fines1,2. Parking
meters are generally used to ensure turnover at certain spaces.

1 Washington, DC, and College Park, MD are exceptions

2 Speeding fines are a different matter. They are a serious part of many budgets.

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[User Picture]From: totient
2006-09-22 09:13 am (UTC)
But the entire purpose of this act is to affect how other people feel.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-09-23 12:22 am (UTC)
It's true, I'm not omniscient. I've been thinking about this stuff for a while, but it was really brought to the forefront of my mind as I was walking to work on Thursday.

A meter reader was walking behind me. A woman in front of me got to her car, and plucked a ticket off the windshield. She asked the meter reader why she had a ticket. The meter reader stated that she didn't write the ticket. The woman explained that that was ok, but she just wanted help understanding why she got a ticket when there was time on the meter.

After she said that, I glanced back to see the meter reader looking at the ticket. I walked out of hearing range, so I didn't catch her answer. But I imagined it was something like she'd been parked there for more than 2 hours & someone (not me) had fed her meter.

So she didn't bother looking at the ticket carefully enough to know why she'd gotten the ticket. I suspect many people only think "time in the meter" and don't think about other possibilities for getting a ticket.

I always check whether a car at a meter that's got no time left on it already has a ticket or not. I never feed meters on ticketed cars, partly because there's no point and partly because I don't want to cause confusion. So I've already been thinking about the consequences of my actions...

I threw this out there to get more thought on stuff like whether I have responsibility here and, if so, how much. So this was an interesting answer.

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[User Picture]From: totient
2006-09-22 09:12 am (UTC)
Maybe feeding meters is a more effective act of kindness if you load up the meter. Which in turn makes it an easier act of kindness to perform in places where the limits are one quarter's worth instead of four or eight.
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[User Picture]From: catness
2006-09-22 09:33 am (UTC)
Jane should have gotten a Honda.
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[User Picture]From: gilana
2006-09-22 09:50 am (UTC)
In the second scenario, the person is going to get a ticket whether you feed the meter or not; the only thing you're affecting is their possible confusion. I'd say the possibility of saving them from a ticket is worth the possibility of a little potential puzzlement. Which would you rather someone did for you?
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-09-23 12:27 am (UTC)
Good question. I think I'd rather someone fed my meter.

But, then again, I check my watch when I drop the money in to see how long I have to do stuff before my meter runs out.

So if I came back more than 2 hours after I'd left & had both a ticket and time on my meter, I'd guess someone fed it for me.

Not everyone does that.

According to a meter reader (which is probably the wrong term) in Somerville that I talked to, many MANY people urgently believe that they haven't been gone for the maximum time period. Which is why they're using the handhelds to log time - it's more efficient and trustworthy than chalking tires and trying to remember.

(I know at least one person in our community - Pup, maybe? - who got a ticket because his tire got chalked, then he drove away & came back an hour later and parked near where he'd been parked when chalked and it just so happened that the chalk mark was pointed roughly downward.)
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From: frotz
2006-09-22 12:37 pm (UTC)
Since "parked more than two hours" and "meter expired" are two different and readily disginguishable tickets (at least to the literate), the confusion potential doesn't seem all that high.

I really wouldn't worry at all about Cambridge's revenue stream, either. They freely admit that the older mechanical meters are flaky as all get-out and cause lots of bogus tickets, most of which are probably just paid by people less contrary than me.

So, I don't feel at all conflicted about any of these scenarios, and would say you should go ahead and drop a quarter if you're so inspired.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-09-23 12:28 am (UTC)
Hmm. Interesting.

Just as a point of reference, all the meters on Oxford are the newer, digital ones.
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From: frotz
2006-09-23 08:51 am (UTC)
My point there was mostly along the lines of "the city clearly doesn't care much about being fair, and I'm happy to reciprocate" rather than being about the meters in use in a particular spot. I should also add that the primary function of meters is generally to give the ticketers an easy way of determining when someone's overstayed rather than to provide a revenue stream; the city probably cares less about the monetary value of that quarter than you do, though they might take issue with it on principle. Also that the nature of politics and government in eastern Massachusetts makes me care far less about the welfare of the state that I might otherwise. (Though Cambridge at least feels better than its neighbors.)
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-09-23 05:41 pm (UTC)
Right, I understand that the lack of fairness was your point, and it's a very good one. I was just adding information.
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From: alfvaen
2006-09-26 09:29 am (UTC)
If they don't want people parking there more than two hours, then they should make it impossible to put in extra coins until those two hours have expired, just to avoid this confusion. Do they chalk the tires, or do they have some other way of determining whether or not you've left and come back to the same parking spot to feed the meter again?

(In other words, when you feed the meter for them, you should also carry chalk around and redo the chalk on their tires so the meter reader thinks they've moved.)
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[User Picture]From: erikred
2006-09-27 12:13 am (UTC)
I was thinking about this as I was doing our laundry today*, and I thought of another wrinkle, which is this: what is the municipality's goal in limiting the maximum length of time one can park in one spot? In most cases, the municipality seeks to ensure a high turnover of parking so that a greater quantity of shoppers will visit more stores, thereby generating more money through sales taxes and such. If you agree that this is a worthwhile way of doing this, then the correct course of action is to actually grab a meter monitor and point out that this car is over the limit.

Mind you, in the greater scheme of good will and good feelings, this sort of parking quisling behavior will almost certainly earn you admission to a very special level in hell. Next to the people who talk at the theater.

I think the greater good is still served by dropping coins in meters. This way, even if they get a ticket for overstaying the limit, they at least get the satisfaction of believing that they were unjustly ticketed. A lot of people really dig that sort of victimhood.

(*This is what's called a pleasant division of labor: I like doing laundry, and Yoko likes cooking; Yoko enjoys wearing clean clothes, and I have put on a very healthy 50 pounds thanks to Yoko's exquisite cooking.)
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