Op-Ed: The Robo Meters Are Coming To Santa Monica!

Friday, 25 May 2012, 11:00:00 PM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

Never mind those spinning lawn mower balls in the “Battleship” movie, although I don’t need to tell you to avoid “Battleship” since most of America is already doing so. Anyhow, don’t worry about aliens in the ocean or even the more standard ones that arrive, monitor our climate issues and dependence on fossil fuels and then decide we’re easy pickins’. Citizens of Santa Monica, we have a much bigger problem: The Robo Meters are coming!

In a May 20 article, The Mirror’s Brenton Garen has called it “a new era of parking meters” but I think he’s underestimating the threat. The new meters will not allow you to ‘pump’ your parking meter past the posted time limit. They also sense when a car leaves, then gulp and ingest any leftover time on a meter. That’s right: That little bit of spare change you were saving when you landed a curbside spot with time left on the meter...? Those days are over, my friends. Cue the bugle player. “Taps” plays solemnly in the background as a new dawn rises over our parking meters.

Over the last few months, more standard Santa Monica parking meters have been switched out for Robo Meters that are credit card and phone-enabled. Hey, get this: Users who pay for their parking meter by phone can receive text messages when the meter is about to expire and then remotely add more time. Uh, up to the posted limit. Again, remember: Pumping is over. Long live pumping!

As it always begins in horror movies, the scientists argue for the “up” side. The new meters are so sophisticated they’ll provide data. With the City able to know how long you stayed parked, they can adjust time limits so that maybe an hour space will eventually become a two-hour space. Digital maps may now include information on open parking spaces, the data provided by the Robo Meters. “Zarcon, we must find Dr. Xotz laboratory before he releases the virus. According to my phone, there’s a space for our hovercraft just ahead near the Dairy Queen!”

Of course telephones and parking meters should talk. Hey, just last month my kitchen blender started up a conversation with my toaster oven and, well… in June they’re getting married. I have no idea what to give them as a wedding present. I mean, they’ve already got a blender and a toaster…

I’m sorry, but is there a point where some of this technocracy is scheduled to stop? We’ve already tried, I believe, computers on board family refrigerators. The idea there was that with a few touch-screen moves, you could make a note that you were out of cheese. Then make a printout later; a printout that read “Cheese.” See, a pad of paper and a ball point pen are just so overwhelmingly bulky and complicated…

Of course when there’s an end game of improved profitability, there’s no end to technocracy’s long cold arm. Many of you are familiar with the cycle of terror known as printer ink cartridges. The reason you can currently buy a printer/scanner/fax unit for peanuts is that the manufacturing entity is going to be draining you for years on ink cartridges. Admittedly, they’re really kind of a great machine to have. Except when you have a big project due and you’re out of ink. Should you buy two black ink cartridges in a double pack? Should you pay a bit more for the higher-output cartridge and gamble that you will, as they promise, save money? Should you instead get the black ink/color combo ink pack? Should you perhaps get your old typewriter out of the closet and just work with that?

Viewed one way, we’ll now be getting the ink cartridge treatment from our parking meters. Sure, I can make my little quips here in The Mirror, but what good will it do? The City has a parking meter that talks to your phone! I know right this minute the meter and the phone are laughing behind my back at my irritation over Robo Meters. Because more than likely, the City also programmed the new parking meters to read our thoughts! (I can’t prove that, but I like a good rumor as much as the next guy… especially if the next guy is Bigfoot.)

This column has previously wondered aloud about Santa Monica parking meter rate inequities. What determines the pricing of various metered spaces? Do we make Santa Monica a welcoming destination if we charge more for street parking here than they do in Beverly Hills? People want to super-size the Miramar Hotel because some insist we must do so to remain competitive as a destination. Will visitors now get out of their rental cars and have a first interaction with our city involving pricey meter parking, followed by the Robo Meter’s refusal to be pumped, followed by a text message nudging them to transfer more funds to their meter followed by our new robot Meter Maid Rosey (last seen vacuuming on “The Jetsons”) writing them a ticket?

I already miss carrying a bag of nickels around in my glove compartment. But I guess I must yield to those who can hardly wait for the day when we all move through life touching our Smart Phones to things. Our magic wands will send us a printout at the end of month and at the bottom of the page, if we’ve linked properly, we’ll see the word “Cheese.”

Copyright © 2011 by Santa Monica Mirror. All rights reserved.