Parking meters take credit cards, use solar power

Times Staff Writer

As Katherine Stein pulled her car up to the curb on La Brea Avenue in West Hollywood and stepped out onto the sidewalk, something gave her pause.

With her friend Laney Roth in tow, Stein examined the parking meter, did a double take, and then another. Up and down the block, other drivers and pedestrians were doing the same.

“It’s really cool,” Stein said. “It’s awesome.”

All the parking meters had undergone a makeover and were now outfitted with high-tech, solar-powered credit card reading mechanisms, courtesy of a partnership between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The meters also have traditional coin slots.

“I’d use my credit card here if I needed to,” said Stein, a Glendale resident. “Being in L.A. for five years, I know to keep a lot of coins in my car. I don’t even stop if I don’t have coins.”

Earlier this month, the two cities unveiled 30 new solar-powered single-space parking meters, believed to be the first of their kind in the United States.


The new meters -- 18 in the 1000 block of La Brea Avenue in West Hollywood and 12 in the 300 block of North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills -- were installed as a pilot project.

The credit card function uses a design from IPS Group and the same encryption technology used in many banks to ensure ease and security for drivers with credit cards, said Tamara White, the West Hollywood public information officer.

Jammed meters send an instant wireless message to city staffers, who can fix them more efficiently, said Dennis Frey, an IPS Group engineer. The solar panels on the back of the meters are the main source of power, with support from a backup battery.

“These meters could make it much more convenient to park,” said Chad Lynn, director of parking operations for Beverly Hills. “I can’t say how many times I’ve heard people say they haven’t had enough coins for the meter, that they had to run into the store to get change, that they had to sift through their car trays. This is much easier.”

Frey, who was monitoring the status of the meters last week, said many people were already trying out the credit card reader.

Officials said the two cities decided to team up to develop the meters through a mutual interest in making drivers’ lives easier using technology.

“There’s so much overlap between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills in parking -- we do border each other -- so it seemed like a convenient idea for drivers,” White said.

Lynn said he was not aware of any other U.S. city that employs single-space parking meters with credit card-reading capabilities. Individual E-Purse meters, which use technology similar to the West Hollywood and Beverly Hills meters, exist in some Asian nations.

Several California cities, including Sacramento and San Francisco, have installed multiple-space parking meters with coin and credit card slots. The Beverly Hills and West Hollywood partnership, however, opted for single space meters because drivers are more comfortable with that model, Lynn said.

“There were some technical reasons as well, but the single space meters offer familiarity,” Lynn said. “They allow us to use our current infrastructure.”

Using the poles and housings of the original meters on North Canon and La Brea, technicians installed the new card-reading technology in the existing meter frames.

The exact cost of the implementation is unclear because the meters are only test models, Lynn said. But officials from both cities said the new meters cost about the same as traditional meters. Although officials do not expect parking collections to jump, Lynn said the credit card function of the new meters could help slash the cities’ parking expenses if the meter project expands.

“If we have a high level of credit card use, simply because it’s a non-cash system, it reduces the back-end labor needed to maintain the parking meters, bag the coins, collect them, etcetera,” Lynn said.

The testing phase is slated to last about a month in West Hollywood. But the West Hollywood Parking Division may cut the pilot program short and start installing more credit card accessible meters, depending on drivers’ satisfaction with them.

“Our staff is keeping a close eye on the meters, frequenting those areas and seeing if consumers are having a hard time with the meters or if they’re catching on,” White said. “We’re playing it by ear.”

In Beverly Hills, the trial meters will remain for six months, after which the City Council will decide whether to keep the meters and possibly order more, Lynn said.

The Parking Division has launched other parking innovations in recent years, allowing drivers to use cellphones or credit cards to buy or add time to meters. Another program uses a debit or pre-paid cash key that can be inserted into certain parking meters. At the moment, however, White said the department has no other modernization projects lined up.

“We’re always trying to find something new and cutting-edge, but we don’t have anything else in mind now,” she said.