Smart meters in downtown Denver could outwit scofflaws in pilot project

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Like colorful spring flowers, red-bagged meters are popping up all over downtown. They're part of a pilot program testing just how smart Denver's Smart meters really are.

Are they smart enough to know when you attempt to plug a meter? Are they smart enough to rat you out?

This week, as part of a 500-space pilot project in the central business district, the city has been installing sensors under the pavement that can talk to the Smart meters the city put in two years ago, and together they can conspire against scofflaws. It's always been against the rules to plug a meter after two hours, for example, but under this new system, the Smart meter won't accept the change. And if a car pulls out of a space early, the sensor can alert the meter -- which can zero out any money left on the meter, or simply reduce it to a uniform number.

"We just want to be consistent," explains Denver Department of Public Works spokeswoman Ann Williams.

And in some ways, the city has succeeded: Businesses in LoDo are consistently skeptical about how this new system will work, particularly in a part of town that's already very parking-impaired, with the loss of the Union Station lots.

But the Smart meters have also made it possible to figure the complicated formula that now allows people to park overnight in downtown. And at least the new technology -- courtesy IPS Group, the city supplier that claims the "next revolution in parking is here -- will make one consumer-friendly service possible: a phone app that will tell you where all the open parking spaces are near your final destination at that very second.

Just be very careful when operating your phone and a moving vehicle at the same time.

Sometimes it seems like you have to be a genius to figure out Denver's Smart meters. Read some horror stories in "Overnight parking: Have you gotten a late-night parking ticket downtown? Tell us about it!."

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