Parking meter circa 1940 (Source: wikipedia)

I’ve never met someone who is happy with parking meters. Meters are pesky and inconvenient, often caked with filth from weather or people, and as the conspiracy theory goes, designed to trap people into receiving those lovely parking tickets. And yet they’re prevalent in just about every city. And we the average peoples put up with them.

That though is nothing new. As an American society, we’ve been putting up with meters since 1935. That’s when they were introduced. 150 of them on a handful of downtown streets in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on July 16th.

But while many of us associate parking meters with city revenue, they were first introduced to solve a different problem. At the time cars were becoming popular, quite popular in fact. Between 1900 and 1935, 50 million cars were sold. America was evolving into a society of drivers and cities were trying to adjust to this new trend. And for most American cities the adjustment was difficult, as roads and infrastructure in general were never built to support cars.

So behavior of people with their cars was causing all sorts of problems for cities. In downtown areas of cities, people were leaving cars parked for hours and sometimes days. This lead to double parking becoming prevalent and congestion was a norm.

None of this was good for business owners who want turnover. Give customers enough time to shop, but then have them leave so that other customers can shop. To counter the problems, different cities used different methods — some let people park cars all day for free, others like Los Angeles banned cars completely during the day for a period of time. But it wasn’t until the introduction of parking meters that the congestion and turnover problem was solved.

When Oklahoma City first introduced meters, there was pushback from citizens. Free parking is a right the populace demanded. But business owners helped keep the meters in place. And of course the parking meters were good for the government too. It meant more revenue for the city.

Today, parking meters are becoming easier to use. With apps to help manage payments, the experience has definitely improved. All in good time for driverless cars to become popular.

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