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Signing in w/a Boston Meter CardAs I travel around the Boston I park at meters in fits and starts. Sometimes I go without doing so for weeks; other times I’m parking at one several times a day or several days in a row. I have taken to getting rolls of quarters at the bank and keeping at least one in my car at all times. Its always a guessing game as to how much to put in each meter, never knowing exactly how long I will be at each stop. Along came the meters that take credit cards, and paying for parking became easier; exact change no longer required. But still, you need to know ahead of time how long you will be staying in the space so the meter can print out a ticket letting you know what time to return to your car.

This system of parking is even more annoying now that Boston parking went from 25 cents for 15 minutes, to 25 cents for 12 minutes. Previously a 45 minute stop would cost 75 cents, now in order to stop for 45 minutes you have to insert $1.00 which gives you 48 minutes on your meter. In November the mayor announced the Boston Meter Card. Meters in business districts like the Back Bay, South End, Brighton and Beacon Hill take these pre-paid cards in place of coins and credit cards. Initially I didn’t like the idea because it wasn’t clear that these meters would give parkers a choice between paying with the card and paying with coins, and I forgot all about them until this week.

I had several occasions to park on Beacon Street in the Back Bay and noticed that the meters took the Boston Meter Card. I have a Charlie Card and a Fast Lane Pass, so I figured why not. On the pro side, you only pay for the time you use and you don’t need to fumble around for exact change. On the con side, the card is a pain to purchase and a pain to reload. You can purchase the card online, but you can’t put any amount you want on it as you can with the Charlie Card. You are restricted to filling the card with one of several pre-specified amounts that jump incrementally first by $20 and subsequently by $25; too big a jump in my opinion. You can also purchase a card in person at the Boston Tow Lot or at City Hall. In order to reload your card, funds on the card must be totally depleted. So if your card has 50 cents left on it and you know you’ll need more than that the next time you park, you have to use the fifty cents and then go outside and add quarters when the card runs out. Alternatively you can purchase another card ahead of time, use the first one, and when it runs out of money insert the new one. To reload your card you must take it to City Hall or the Boston Tow Lot. Cards are not re-loadable via the internet.

For Boston Meter cards to be more widely accepted they need to be easier to load initially and easier to refill. Cards should have a number associated with them so that when you buy them they are automatically registered to you in the same way the Fast Lane transponder is automatically registered to you. Alternatively they could have a number and you could go to the city’s website and register it to yourself in the same way you would a Starbucks card. You should be able to load the card with any amount that fits your needs as you can with a Charlie Card. You should be able to reload it whenever its convenient for you to do so and not have to wait until all the existing funds are used up. Ideally you would be able to set a reload threshold that would trigger a reload in a specified amount that would then be charged to your credit card. This is one of the options offered for reloading the Fast Lane transponder. I use it sporadically, don’t have to keep track of how much money is left in my account and there’s always money to pay the tolls when I need it. I need the meter card to work the same way. I don’t want to end up at a meter short of money on my card and without change to pump into the meter.

From my perspective, if the Boston Meter Card is going to continue to work this way, I’d just as soon have the Pay and Display (credit card) meters every where instead. What do you think of the Boston Meter Card?