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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 33.0° F  Overcast
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Free parking -- or not
This receipt was originally dated June 21. But if you move up a number from the time on a scanned copy, voilà!
This receipt was originally dated June 21. But if you move up a number from the time on a scanned copy, voilà!

Bill Knobeloch, the city of Madison's parking utility manager, isn't sure he likes the new multi-space meters being tried out downtown, but he does think they're the wave of the future. Toronto made the switch years ago, and Chicago is making it now. On a recent vacation, Knobeloch visited cities in the Netherlands, Belgium and France, but "didn't see a single-pole meter" anywhere.

"And I took hundred of pictures," he says. "I have many pictures of their meters." (Can't wait to see that slide show.)

Two types of multi-space meters are being tested. Both take credit and debit cards as well as coins. One kind, called pay-by-space, requires parkers to enter their space number. The other, pay-and-display, prints out paper receipts that parkers must put on their dashboards.

The early reaction has been mostly positive, but Knobeloch wants the new meters to make economic sense. Otherwise, "I don't want to use them."

The pay-by-space meters cost $5,000, the pay-and-display $10,000. They each replace about 14 single-pole meters that cost $500 each. There's some indication that multi-space meters generate more revenue per space (since it's easier to go long with a credit card than pump in additional coins), but the city must pay fees to credit-card companies.

Another issue: The pay-and-display meters present opportunities for fraud. It took one Isthmus employee about three minutes to scan in a copy of a parking receipt and change the data. Placed on a dash inside a windshield, it would appear to be a valid receipt.

Knobeloch says other cities with these meters have experienced this scam, but he isn't too concerned. For one thing, the most a person can save is about $2.50. For another, each receipt bears a sequential number, so parking enforcement officers have a way to spot frauds.

But Lt. Stephanie Bradley Wilson and Parking Enforcement Supervisor Erin Stenson of the Madison Police Department say this is not something they've looked into. "The Parking Utility [as opposed to MPD] is going to be the most concerned about that because of the loss of revenue," says Stenson. "For us, there's no revenue associated with that."

Jason Temby, a parking enforcement officer, adds that some people have used modern imaging technology to "make counterfeit disabled tags that we can barely notice." But the department has a person assigned fulltime to disabled-parking fraud detection.

As for counterfeit receipts, the city already has a penalty on the books. Madison General Ordinance 8.14 2.(i) makes it "unlawful for any person to tamper with or in any fashion alter [a receipt] to make it appear as though lawful payment has been made" when it hasn't. The fine is $100 to $200 per violation.

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