The (loss of) (the inadvertent) kindness of strangers

Old-style parking metersIt seems that my town of Brookline, MA, is going to replace its coin-only old-style parking meters with the new “buy your time from a central machine and apply sticker to car window” or “pay and display” kind of meters. Modernization, I suppose. (The meter maids will keep their jobs, though.)

We get the convenience of paying with a credit card—not having to worry about carrying quarters around with you—but the downside is you now never get any “free” time. With the old parking meters you might pull into a spot and find that the person who was there previously had put in too much money. A gift, in essence. The (inadvertent) kindness of strangers. But a gift nonetheless; a surprise. Free time.

But that only happened because the “time” remained with the machine. Now the time—in the form of a piece of paper with the amount of time you’ve purchased—stays in your car. When you drive away, you take the time with you. Now there’s no chance of stumbling on to someone else’s leftover time. And that’s a shame. Of course, the main upshot from the point of view of the town is that they increase revenue since no one gets any free time any longer. But at what cost?

And I’m not entirely certain about the convenience. Yes, you don’t have to cart around change, but now you have to walk to the machine to get your slip of paper and then come back to your car and attach that to your window. Moreover, as a meter maid told me, “these new machines break down all the time. So you might have to walk way over there to find one that is working.” (On a side note, she was a very friendly meter maid, talkative, smiling, and chatty. She clearly didn’t let people’s views of meter maids bother her. She was having a good time.)

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