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Portable Parking Meters a Tick Away : Traffic: Keep your quarters for the laundry. City will soon offer the 'Parkulator,' a calculator-type gadget that keeps tabs from the car dashboard.

January 19, 1992|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What's next for the gadget-minded motorist who has a car phone and a portable fax machine, but no pocket change?

Santa Monica is about to bring you the personal parking meter. The city will soon become the first on the West Coast to try out this gadget, a cousin of the pocket calculator that can be displayed on the dashboard by motorists as an alternative to feeding quarters into the city's voracious meters.

"This is the wave of the future in parking," said Anthony Montano, a representative of the company that makes the mini-meter, called a Parkulator.

Alas, it takes quite a few quarters to obtain and use a Parkulator--$50 worth, plus an additional $15 to buy the device, which is not reusable. That gives the user 100 hours of parking at 50 cents an hour. At $15, a Parkulator costs slightly more than one parking ticket, said Ron Fuchiwaki, Santa Monica city parking and traffic engineer.

The parking meter is turned on and off by the user as needed and works by counting down the minutes until $50 worth of time expires. It can be programmed for four different parking rates, if you have the code, but for the trial the city will stick with one, Fuchiwaki said.

In addition to protecting against parking tickets, having a Parkulator means never having to leave time on the meter for the next guy. "Basically, it's a convenience for people who are in and out a lot," Fuchiwaki said.

The city council last week agreed unanimously to change its parking laws to allow for the Parkulator, but it will probably be March before the law is enacted and the pilot project can begin.

Already, Mayor Ken Genser has suggested charging an even higher premium for a Parkulator to protect or enhance the city's $5 million in parking meter revenue. "We should not forget parking meters are a revenue source," he said.

Cities that use the device, however, have not reported a loss in revenue.

The Parkulator was invented by an Israeli who was trying to market it alone before he hooked up with Duncan Industries of Arkansas, the leading manufacturer of conventional parking meters, said Duncan Product Manager Stan Stockton.

Company officials said Parkulators also benefit the cities that use them because emptying the regular meters and counting the change is a labor-intensive process. Montano said the city gains by getting the $50 up front, rather than having to collect it a quarter at a time.

The first trial run of the mini-meters began in Arlington, Va., in 1989. Other cities trying out Parkulators include Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Louisville, Ky.

Duncan Industries' Stockton conceded that the product is getting off to a slow start, but he said he has faith that just one big city has to sign on to have the Parkulator take off. He hopes that city might be Los Angeles, which is considering a program that would regulate the amount of time a truck stays in a loading zone by requiring operators of delivery trucks to buy Parkulators.

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