MEXICO CITY – Americans may take this simple street technology for granted, but electronic parking meters – a novelty in Mexico – are imposing a new order on chaotic Mexico City.
So far this year, the city has installed 350 parking meters on busy avenues of the posh Polanco neighborhood, which suffers severe traffic congestion at nearly all hours of the day. Hundreds more are coming to other neighborhoods this year.
The parking meter program is unique in the country.
The morning rush hour brings streams of automobiles to Polanco's shops, businesses and consular facilities. Next comes the early end of the school day, when parents flock to pick up their kids from the neighborhood's numerous private schools. Then comes the late lunch hour, when business people break for a meal at one of the hundreds of fancy restaurants. Then the evening rush hour, the dinner hour and so on.
The parking meters charge 2 pesos for 15 minutes, or about 16 cents at the current exchange rate. The limit is three hours.
Polanco residents quickly agreed to the program, but it's run into tough opposition in other neighborhoods and among the people who known alternatively as parqueros or "viene-vienes" who randomly take control of city streets by blocking off an area and charging a fee to "take care of" a parked vehicle. "Viene-viene" refers to "come, come," and it's what parqueros say while guiding drivers into a space.
When the first round of meters was installed in January, a vocal protest ensued.
Some parqueros – slang derived from the Spanish parquear, to park a car – have taken to feeding the meter for people willing to pay a fee (which is illegal).
People are following the rules for the most part, said Daniel Escotto, head of Mexico City's Public Space Authority. The city has issued citations, booted or towed vehicles in more than 400 instances since the program began in January.
An interior designer who runs a Polanco-based design studio said the parking meters have made a major difference. Before, it was difficult to find a spot between the parked cars and the "parked" trash cans, buckets, cones and other obstacles set out by the parqueros. Now, he said, he can drive down one of the busier streets and make a quick stop at a pharmacy if he needs something – an impossibility before, at least without paying anywhere from a 25-cent to $2 "fee."
Escotto said that, with the meters in place, roughly 70 percent of parking spots are occupied at any given moment in the day. Previously, parking spaces were up to 130 percent occupied – because drivers routinely double-parked and paid off a parquero.
Polanco will get 450 electronic parking meters total. The city expects to collect about 150 million pesos annually from the Polanco meters alone, or about $11.7 million, said Escotto.
Half of the funds will be directed to improving public space and security in the neighborhood. That same scheme will apply to each of the neighborhoods where the parking meters are installed.
The whole idea is to improve mobility in the city, reduce traffic and emissions and recuperate public space, Escotto said.
"People are seeing substantial improvement in the flow of traffic," he said, "and they’re finding a place to park."
Photo: Flickr/Matthew Rutledge