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Meter Math Doesn't Add Up

Using Quarters? You'll Pay More

December 4, 2006
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer

When are dimes worth more than quarters?

When you're parking in Hartford.

At parking meters in the city, a quarter gets you 10 minutes, a dime gets you five and a nickel gets you 21/2. So do the math: Two hours of parking paid with quarters costs $3. Use dimes and nickels, and those same two hours will cost you $2.40, a savings of 20 percent.

"They are ripping us off!" said Lissette Reyes, who had parked in front of City Hall when the system was pointed out to her.

"That's not nice," said Carol Kalter, who was visiting the Wadsworth museum from Stamford.

No, no, no, explained John McGrane, the city's acting director of public works. It's not a rip-off. Using the smaller coins is a discount, he said.

"The quarter is the coin that most people use, and given that most people use it, a quarter for 10 minutes equates to $1.50 per hour, which is the city's stated rate for parking," McGrane said. "You do get a better deal if you use your nickels and dimes."

Why the rates are set this way, no one really knows. Industry experts are baffled. And city officials give a list of possible reasons, but none can offer certain answers.

"Frankly, I have no idea why the meters offer time the way they do," said James Kopencey, the executive director of the city's parking authority.

"This was part of the setup that was made at the time that the meters were purchased and installed many years ago."

Kopencey's agency took control of the meters from public works in July, he said.

And while he now has the authority to adjust the rates, doing so would be expensive and he is working to replace the city's current meters with new machines that take credit cards. The new machines will have a "direct correlation between time and money," he said.

But Kopencey did offer a possible explanation for why quarters buy less time than dimes or nickels now. The quarter, Kopencey said, is called a "coin of convenience" in parking professional circles.

"You get less time," he said, "but then you don't have to carry all those nickels."

Barbara Darraugh, the director of communications for the National Parking Association, said she was baffled by the city's rates.

Hartford, she said, should be able to reset the meters so each coin buys proportionate amounts of time.

"That makes no sense to me," she said. "That is wild. Absolutely wild."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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