Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Parking Meters are Reverse Slot Machines

Raymond Chen has an amusing blog post, “When computer programmers dabble in economics: Paying parking tickets.” [link to no longer works] This is further dabbling in economics, and I hope you find it amusing.

I believe that parking meters–the old fashioned kind where you put coins in and hope to not get a ticket–are precisely the opposite of slot machines. With a slot machine, you put money in, and you hope, money comes out. I like not putting money in parking meters, and hoping none comes out of my pocket.

Photo: “Downtown Phillipsburg, NJ,” by Peachhead.

2 comments on "Parking Meters are Reverse Slot Machines"

  • Andy says:

    I’d argue that they are similar to slot machines in one respect. You put in money and you’re never sure what you’re going to get from the device. Sometimes you get the full 1/2 hour (or whatever a quarter is worth where you are) and sometimes you get 5 minutes, because this meter sucks….

  • Chris says:

    I’m sure that if on-line payment for tickets is possible (I don’t know how common this is), this would make great sense in some cases. Otherwise, if you accumulate enough tickets, you can get booted. In Chicago, I think they can boot you after only 3 unpaid tickets.
    When I used to live in Providence (never did like the Patriots, though), there was a guy who parked his Rolls right in front of his office and got a ticket every day, which he paid. It was obvious that this was just the cost of a convenient space to him. Why an obviously wealthy lawyer couldn’t find an office with parking, I couldn’t tell you…
    BTW, the parking meters in Prov were slot machines for real. By striking a meter hard with a blunt object, you could break the lock in such a way that the meter would open just by tugging on the (otherwise locked) drawer lid. The fact that the meter was like this was obvious by looking at it. Plenty of people did the lock-breaking, and the broken meters were not replace often at all. As a result, it was fun to:
    1. Walk down the street and try to open meters to see which ones were already broken, and gave you a “jackpot”, and
    2. Park in a metered spot, toss in a coin, and immediately remove it for reuse.
    If Cianci hasn’t caught on yet, Waterman between Brook and Hope was one area I still remember having like 5 in a row that paid off :^)

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