Mar 23

Here’s a strange Friday thought:

Parking Meters are like gift certificates in that there’s always “breakage” one way or another.

parkingMeter.jpgIf you think about it, you always end up either putting in too much money and leaving change in the meter when you drive away, or you make the more costly mistake of putting in too little and end up getting stuck with a parking ticket because you short-guessed it. The optimal payment to a parking meter is just enough money so that it expires right as you return to your car. Any other situation and you’re getting hosed.

Where there’s inefficiency there’s room to innovate and capitalize on the arbitrage. If you live somewhere where you are using parking meters frequently, would you pay $20/mo for a subscription to a service that ensured you never got any parking tickets and always optimized your payments to deposit only what was necessary to the meter while you used it? There’s a right answer here because you would know a month after using the service whether it was saving you money or not. If you use the meter twice a day and this service saves you from even one parking ticket or from wasting enough change each time from over-paying, it would be worth it.

I have no idea how to best automate this and it’s in the municipality’s best interest to not optimize this here- they win the more breakage there is in this situation (whether it’s through extra change left in the meter or through parking tickets). Affixing some device to all parking meters would be costly not to mention illegal due to tampering with government property. It would most likely not be cost-effective to have low-paid bikers with change purses being texted with instructions on where to deposit money either. I’m not sure the winning implementation here but there is absolutely an opportunity to middleman this situation and capitalize on the parking meter inneficiency problem offering a service that would save people money- the question is if you could do it in such a way as to be profitable. Estimate the number of meters in the world and the money wasted on each one on an average day and you have a fairly attractive market cap…

10 Responses to “Parking meter arbitrage”

  1. TOMAS says:

    Very interesting idea you have here Sean. I don’t have the need for a parking meter anymore since my school situation has changed, but I definitely do remember having to roll the dice every time I visited ASU for an evening class since I would end up with 15 minutes from the time my meter expired to the time my class ended & twice I came away with parking tickets.

  2. The people who get away with a few minutes now and then are offset by those that leave change in the meter when they leave, and vice versa. Besides, the actual profit to use margin is irrelevant under the current system, and the true economics are fuzzy. But I agree that the conventional wisdom would suggest that the parking tickets and change left over is advantageous to profitability, however I would be willing to bet that if (assuming it could be implemented cost-effectively) they implemented RF devices like the iPass toll system in Illinois, they would make more profit. This would likely be for two reasons: 1 the amount they have to spend per year to maintain and police the situation would be significantly less and 2 – the amount of revenue generated would probably be higher. I have zero data to back this up, but it might be a good topic for the Freakonomics guys.

  3. Do it with transponders like they do with tollroads. e-debit your account.

  4. I just realized you have PR7.. nice

  5. Oyvind says:

    Here in Norway we now pay with the mobile phone. Register your phone and your car, and then just txt the number on the meter to the parking service number.

    It even sends you a text message when it’s 10 minutes left.

    Coins are so 80s…

  6. mablt says:

    Hmmm. Yes, cell phone credit are the future, and these meters are sneaking into more cities. Most US folks still deal with coin of the realm though.

    And why don’t meters reset to zero when the car leaves? Think of the extra revenue at high volume places like airport short term parking if you sell the same space twice . . .

  7. Jacob Sikais says:

    I came across the Europark parking test card which made outrageous claims of ‘beating the system’… nonetheless it was something I had to test for myself… the good news it worked in Australia (I thought this might not be the case as the company is based in Canada).

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