Puzzling It Out

In July the city of Ithaca began the process of replacing the familiar “lollypop” coin-fed parking meters with digitally-capable pay stations. Right now, there are 23 stations set up in downtown and Collegetown; the plan is to replace a total of 900 coin meters with 60 of these pay stations across the city. 

After seeing so many perplexed looks directed at these new machines while walking our beats, we at the Ithaca Times decided that a little how-to guide was in order for newcomers—and it might come in handy for lifelong Ithacans as well. 

Let’s walk through the process, step by step, from the time you see an open spot until your time runs out during paid parking hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, holidays excepted. 

First, remember that you might need to do a bit of walking to get to the pay meter once you’ve parked. You might even need to cross a street, a particularly important concern for those whose walking pace is leisurely rather than senatorial, or when winter cold overtakes Ithaca. (It will get cold. Sorry. You’re in the Northeast). Look for the blue-lettered signs that say “Pay Station On (This or Other) Side of Street.” Eventually, city parking director Frank Nagy said, there will be stations on both sides of the street, but for now, crossing might be necessary. Then … 

Before leaving your vehicle: check your license plate number! 

If you plan on doing a lot of downtown parking, memorize your license plate number—or save it in your thinking-for-you phone, if you must. There will also be keyfobs available at parking meters on which you can write your plate number. 

You will need your plate number, for after you arrive at the stations, hit any button to make the screen light up—the screens are well backlit and should be visible even in direct sunlight—and select your language (English, Spanish, Mandarin, or French) then you will be asked to put in your license plate number. 

(Once your license plate number is inserted into the system, parking officers can now check to see if you’re paid up—that’s how all this works. The benefit of this is you can take extra time with you when you move your car to another metered spot. Also, if you have a plate with your name on it or your dog’s name or you felt the need to doubly remind people you’re driving a BMW, congratulations: your expression of narcissism was not entirely in vain, since you should be able to remember your plate easily.)

Now that your plate number is entered, PAY THE METER. Change is still sufficient, but not necessary. The meters also take bills and credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Discover). Add time at $1.50 an hour up to the two-hour limit. Take your receipt, which you do not need to put on the dashboard. You’re all paid up and done! Remember when your time runs out and come back beforehand to avoid a ticket. 

However, for the 21st century totally networked person, there are some newfangled options for making use of technology. Before you complete payment, you can enter your phone number. The meter system will then text you when your time is 15 minutes from ending, and by responding with a simple number you can extend that time. This is, naturally, applicable only to credit card users. And yes, there’s an app for this that will go online soon.  §

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