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Denver's Smart meters make looking for open spots a zero-sum game

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With the city facing a $94 million shortfall in its 2013 budget, every penny counts. As part of the pilot project that recently installed sensors in 500 parking places downtown, Denver is now zeroing out its Smart meter the moment a car pulls out. And keeping the change.

But collecting more cash is just a side benefit of the project, according to the Denver Department of Public Works, which is looking at putting its limited amount of parking inventory to greater use. Parking longer than the allowed time -- usually two hours -- was always against the rules, spokeswoman Ann Williams points out; now it's just impossible to plug the meter.

Or pick up any free time if the spot's previous occupant pulls out before the two hours are up.

But Smart meters have other benefits. They all take credit cards. They're what made the complicated payment system for overnight parking downtown possible. (Just remember to bring a flashlight and magnifying glass in order to read those rules.) The sensors also give the city a tool for determining if certain areas of downtown -- near salons, for example -- might need to raise the time limit on some meters to account for more lengthy services.

And keep an eye out for that still-to-come app: immediate notification of any open parking spots in the vicinity.

Just don't count on any of those spots having money remaining on the meter.

A quarter here, a quarter there: pretty soon we're talking...chump change.

Have you figured out downtown Denver's overnight parking rules? After a night of karoake, they had Melanie Asmar singing the blues. Read about it in the feature "Confusing overnight parking meters leave drivers frustrated."

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