Beaufort News

What was wrong with coin-fed parking meters? Nothin'

We are now several months into the Great Parking Experiment of 2010, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

An article in The Beaufort Gazette last week led with this sentence: "Beaufort City Council members addressed one parking-related issue after another Tuesday" -- which pretty much sums up the Cadillac Escalade-sized headache the change in downtown parking has caused the city.

We're heading into the holidays -- an important period for retailers all over, including those in downtown Beaufort -- and who still wants to argue about parking? Apparently, everyone. Complaining about the new parking system is the most popular hobby about town.

Let's recap: Downtown used to have the old-fashioned parking meters but replaced them earlier this year with high-tech, solar-powered, computerized kiosks that are scattered all around the neighborhood.

When you park, you now get the added pleasure of not first going to your destination but, instead, seeking out your parking kiosk -- sort of like a scavenger hunt -- and queuing up as if you're waiting in line for the lamest Disney World ride ever.

Understandably, people are annoyed by this process. It doesn't help that -- for a few of our neighbors -- working an ATM is a challenge, much less a space-aged parking computer. I can only imagine that for every legitimate complaint the folks at City Hall are answering, they get a dozen that end with variations of: "Sir, that's not the parking kiosk, it's a Coke machine."

To be fair, the city has put out more signs helping you find your designated parking pay station and made the process more user-friendly. But I imagine that if you forced the decision makers to tell the truth, they'd admit they wish they could just change it all back.

Because let's be honest: The complaining will never stop. First, there's only so much you can do to make a computer "user-friendly" before it's really up to the "user" to be more "friendly." When it comes to technology, some people will never get it. (I tried to explain Twitter to my dad last week, and it ended with us both weeping uncontrollably.)

Also, the new parking system is dumb. That's OK to admit, right? People, in general, do not like to pay fees, but they are willing to go along if the process is at least quick and easy. Paying for the parking space should not take longer than the time it took to find the space. That's just basic logic.

We're a nation of tinkerers. We love to invent new ways to do the same thing. Sometimes, we get the iPad. Other times, we get parking kiosks. They all can't be winners.

You know what works? An old-fashioned, coin-fed parking meter located directly in front of your car. And do you know what will work best 100 years from now? An old-fashioned, coin-fed meter located directly in front of your transporter-beam landing pad. We can't do better.

It's sort of like the broom. No one has designed a new broom in thousands of years. There's a reason why the Roomba robot vacuum never took off. At the end of the day, a stick with bristles on the end is as good as we can do. We've peaked.

Not that I expect to go back. We can't really. Oftentimes, the simplest solution is the hardest one to implement. Too much money has been spent; too many egos are at risk. Eventually, we will adjust, or something new will come along to anger us and we'll forget about downtown parking.

For instance, at that same City Council meeting last week, residents of The Point neighborhood stated that they had applied for a program that would keep people from parking in front of their houses for long stretches. Or, to put it in less kind words, they'd like to make the public streets a little less public.

In terms of PR moves -- do neighborhoods worry about public relations? -- this isn't the best one. Really, nothing says, "Howdy neighbor!" like a sign that says, "Beat it, stranger." But, hey, the good news is somewhere there is a parking kiosk happy for the diversion.