Imagine a parking meter that automatically bills your credit card for as long as you stay so that you don't get a fine.
Or consider a meter that would mail tickets to parkers who failed to pay, and would give drivers the option of paying a discounted fine right at the meter.
That will be the reality in Niagara Falls when new parking meters equipped with cameras are fully up and running.
The city has partnered with Photo Violation Technologies, based in Vancouver, B.C., to try out digital meters on downtown streets. It has taken more than a month to work out several kinks that have delayed the full operation of the meters, but officials expect the cameras to start working next week.
Once that happens, Photo Violation Technologies Chief Executive Officer Fred Mitschele believes the city's parking experience will change dramatically.
"The camera, although it's one of the biggest features," Mitschele said, isn't the meter's most popular one. "The feature that everybody gravitates to are the friendly features -- the no-fine feature.
"As long as you're willing to pay for your parking, you will probably never get a ticket."
The meters accept cash, credit or debit cards and allow parkers who use credit cards to automatically extend the parking time to avoid tickets. Meters also will have a 15-minute grace period.
Cameras have been installed in the pavement to record the license plate numbers of violators.
The project has hit several glitches so far.
Although the meters were slated to be up and running by Memorial Day, representatives from the company are still working to get all of the meters functioning properly and connected to a wireless network that will also provide free Internet service downtown.
Many of the meters operated on battery power in July because they had not yet been connected to an electrical source.
Despite the delays, city officials said early revenue reports from meters that were on temporarily in July look promising.
So far, 77 meters that have been on an average of 10 days each have brought in a total of $5,905.55. That's about $76 per meter. Mitschele said national studies have shown that typical meter use across the country brings in $100 to $150 a month.
Mayor Vince Anello believes the meters will be a money maker for the city and that he is not concerned about the delays.
"I've been involved with projects that use state-of-the-art equipment and there's always issues that come up and you address them," Anello said. "At some point you have to make a decision whether it's a good thing or not, but at this point, we're positive that this will be a plus."
The city has contracted with Photo Violation Technologies to run a six-month, free trial run of the meters. Niagara Falls does not have to pay for the trial, but will pay for the meters and their installation if officials decide to keep them. The city will keep whatever revenue is collected during the trial period.
The meters cost between $2,000 and $3,000 to purchase and install, Mitschele said.
Not all city officials were on board with the project. Council Chairman Robert Anderson Jr. voted against the contract with Photo Violation, but said Monday he is supporting his colleagues and waiting to see the results of the trial.
"If it doesn't work, we'll change it," Anderson said. "I'm still going to stand by. I don't think that the streets of Niagara Falls are ready for parking meters yet until we get like 42nd Street."