Bill Knobeloch says not to worry. Madison's parking manager admits there was a recent technological glitch with the server that runs the city's spanking-new downtown parking terminals. Something happened to "open up a portal on the server that let spam in." But the security of the system, which at times tracks payments made with credit cards, was never in doubt.
"It's a good system," he says.
As of this week, 14 of the terminals are in place, replacing dozens of meters; about 70 will be installed by year's end. Knobeloch expects the devices to be operational by month's end; the current meters will be replaced with stall-number posts (which hopefully will still double as bicycle racks).
The new system is known as a pay-by-space. Parkers walk to the terminal, enter their stall number and pay with cash or credit. If they use a credit card, the terminal encrypts the information and sends it via phone to a bank; the bank decrypts it, then relays back a "real-time" decision on whether to authorize the transaction.
Knobeloch says similar systems are in place at city parking ramp pay stations and gas pumps everywhere. But it's an improvement over previous ramp systems that ran credit card checks after the fact, letting scofflaws get away. (If only we'd known!)
Here's where it gets really funky. The terminals beam info on which stalls are paid (not credit card numbers) to a server in the City-County Building. Parking enforcement officers access this with handheld devices when they come by to write tickets.
"They still have to walk" to look at cars, to check for disabled or contractor tags, says Knobeloch. "Just because it's unpaid doesn't mean they need to write a ticket."
But enforcers won't have to check every spot, so they can cover more ground and ruin more people's days. There are also benefits for parkers. For instance, the terminals generate receipts that can be used to challenge tickets issued in error. And it will prevent people from, say, absentmindedly plugging a meter for two hours in a spot that will become a tow-away zone in 35 minutes.
Hopefully, we'll get less towed cars," says Knobeloch. But let's face it: That's one old technology that isn't likely to become obsolete.