Personal parking meters could replace pocketfuls of quarters if Buffalo decides to try a pilot project that taps computer technology to collect parking fees.
City officials met Tuesday with the head of an Oregon company that operates electronic parking-card programs in Florida, Virginia and France.
"Imagine a portable parking meter that you carry with you and can use at any meter in the city," said Arnold Rosen. "You don't ever have to worry about carrying coins for parking."
Rosen contended that the high-tech "smart cards" could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars by cutting theft and reducing curbside maintenance costs.
The tiny computers, a little thicker than a credit card, could hang from rearview mirrors or be attached to windows with Velcro. Motorists buy parking time in advance.
The in-vehicle meters have an LCD screen that, with the push of a button, lets motorists specify how much prepurchased time they want to expend at a given meter. The LCD screen then counts down the time, giving parking enforcement officials the same type of information they now get by looking at a meter.
City Parking Director Leonard G. Sciolino said he likes the concept, especially because Electronic Parking Systems is willing to launch a pilot project without the city footing any upfront costs.
"We've talked to communities in Florida that have been using in-vehicle parking meters, and they're getting good reviews," Sciolino said. "We're very interested in testing the concept in Buffalo."
Motorists would "load" the electronic cards with parking credits either by telephone or in person. Sciolino said the cards would not replace curbside meters but would be an attractive option for many motorists, including business people who frequently use meters and individuals with disabilities.
Rosen said a five- or six-month pilot project could be launched by spring. His company will send the city 50 portable meters in the coming weeks so local officials can see for themselves that the devices don't malfunction in cold weather. Rosen said the personal parking meters, which are powered by five-year batteries, have tested at temperatures as low as 4 degrees below zero.
Electronic parking-card programs can increase revenue to municipalities by 20 to 30 percent, Rosen said. The company charges municipalities a percentage of revenue, typically 7 percent.
"It's very easy for quarters to disappear during various phases of the collection process," he said. "With the in-vehicle cards, cities don't lose a penny in revenue."
Rosen added that having motorists prepay for parking also would give the city "significant cash flow" at no interest.
Similar programs have begun in Tampa, Fla.; Arlington County, Va., outside Washington, D.C.; and five cities in France.
Localities can charge a deposit for the in-vehicle parking meters or sell them to motorists, Rosen said. Arlington County, for example, charges a $25 deposit that is refundable if motorists decide to return the devices.
In the long term, Rosen said, technology is being developed that would enable motorists to link the meters to their cell phones and locate vacant parking spaces.