Parking Meters Take Plastic

The city's parking-card system came to the Upper West Side on Monday, and the Upper West Side wasn't ready.
parking-meter.gifParkers lucky enough to find empty spaces at meters were still running into nearby shops in search of quarters, the bolder ones asking, "Can you change a dollar?" and the more realistic ones buying gum or a newspaper to get coins back.

Had they been better prepared, they could have simply inserted a credit card-sized parking card into the meter.

About 1,100meters on the Upper West Side, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and in Forest Hills, Queens, had been modified to accept the cards beginning Monday in a major expansion of a pilot program, said Chris Gilbride of the city Department of Transportation.

"Seriously? I don't need quarters any more?" said Carlos Ortiz, 30, who parked on Columbus Avenue near West 84th Street to pick up his daughter from a nearby preschool. "That would be really good." He pushed down four quarters for 40 minutes of time for his Mitsubishi Galant.

Of the eight motorists who were spotted parking at meters in the space of 75 minutes on a two-block stretch of Columbus Avenue, five fed the meter with quarters, one didn't have to pay because there was time left on the meter and two simply didn't pay and furtively went off about their business.

Douglas Hernandez didn't have a card either, although he had been alerted, having received leaflets at the Columbus Avenue ice cream shop he manages, California Louie's.

"I know,I know," he said, pouring quarters down the coin slot to rent a space for his Ford Explorer. "I got four tickets in the past month, and I tell them I have a store right here and they don't give you a break. I'll be getting one of them cards."

Rich Prater of Tampa, Fla., in town on a business trip, said he probably wouldn't buy a card because he doesn't come to New York often enough. But then he illustrated the convenience of the card by parking his Buick LeSabre rental, dashing into a nearby Gristede's to get quarters, dashing out because the lines were too long, dashing across the street to the Parisian Deli, buying a New York Post and dashing back to the meter to put the quarters in.

All the while, his car was vulnerable to a $65 parking ticket.

"I can see why you New Yorkers would want this," he said, puffing a bit. "It makes sense."

Gilbride said the city chose neighborhoods with plenty of businesses and high demand for meter parking. "We want to give people more payment options," he said.

His departmentsent "coaches" out into the neighborhoods to pass out information and show people how the meter cards work, he said.

The program for single-space meters began in 2003 with 400 meters in Long Island City, Queens. The same cards have been used since 1996 in the city's 1,706 multispace meters, known as Muni-Meters.

Gilbride said sales of the parking cards, which come in $20 and $50 denominations, were up $11 million in the fiscal year that ended in June. They now account for 10 percent of all meter revenue, not counting fines.

The cards are available online at www.nyc.gov/dot, at CityStores, by mail and by calling the city's 311 information number.

Ortiz said he hates the idea of giving the city his money in advance, but probably won't have to. "I think my wife will do it," he said.
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