Parking Meters

The City first installed new parking meters with sensors in March 2011 on select blocks in Downtown Santa Monica to test the effectiveness of this technology’s impact on circulation and access to metered spaces. The new meters make paying for parking easier by accepting both credit card and coins. In the test blocks, the City found that the meters with sensors met the City’s goal of better managing parking through greater turnaround of on-street spaces and the City was able to gain valuable data that will be used in our ongoing effort to improve access to parking. With the success of the pilot project, the City expanded the installation of the new meters citywide beginning in December 2011. The second phase of the project is the installation of the parking meter sensors, which began on May 14, 2012. The following are answers to frequently asked questions regarding the installation of the meters and sensors.

What exactly do the sensors do?

The sensors have three main functions:

  • Data Collection – The sensors will allow City staff to generate meter usage reports that will inform future parking policy and regulation by having quantitative data on average length of stay, occupancy rates, and payment rates.
  • Limit payment to the posted time limits – The sensors require compliance with existing law by preventing vehicles from paying at meters past the posted time limits, thereby ensuring the meters are used as short term parking and are available to more people, as they are intended.
  • Increases customer awareness of parking time limits – A key parking management strategy is to utilize pricing to encourage use of underutilized parking facilities and to balance the needs of residents, customers, and leisure visitors using Santa Monica’s limited parking resources by ensuring turnover of parking spaces, thereby increasing the ability to find parking.

Why were the sensors installed?

The sensors were installed to better manage the limited supply of on-street parking that is always in high demand. Through the detection of vehicles in on-street spaces, the sensors will collect occupancy data and allow the City to generate accurate parking usage data through real-time, daily, and monthly reports of parking space usage, regardless of whether the meter was paid or not. This, combined with the ability to track average length of stay, will allow the City to better manage parking inventory based on demand.

How do the sensors help me, the customer?

The sensors are a tool to facilitate increased turnover of on-street parking spaces, making more on-street parking available. The sensors allow our real-time parking map to show users where available on-street parking spaces are. A free smart phone app is also available to provide parking guidance and information, enhancing the public’s ability to find available parking spaces.

Is Santa Monica the first city to use parking meter sensors?

No, parking meter sensors are used in many cities where parking is in high demand, including portions of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

How will I know that I have reached the time limit on a meter?

The meters equipped with sensors will alert the customer by displaying a message, “max time exceeded,” and preventing further payment.

Why am I not able to “feed” the meter beyond the posted time limit?

For many years the City has used time limits for on-street parking in an effort to ensure the turnover of parking spaces and make limited resources more available. These time limits are established as authorized in the Santa Monica Municipal Code Section 3.12.840 which requires the posting of signs notifying motorists of the hours and periods of time of parking restrictions, and signs are posted that conform with State and Federal requirements for regulatory signs. Additionally, Section 3.16.240 of the Santa Monica Municipal Code prohibits anyone from “deposit[ing] in any parking meter any coin for the purpose of parking beyond the maximum legal parking time for the particular parking meter zone.” This is not a change in policy. The sensors only ensure easier compliance with existing time limit restrictions by preventing the same vehicle from parking beyond the posted time limit.

Time limits are also established to:

  • Reduce traffic congestion related to parking. One of the contributors to traffic and congestion is vehicles circling parking locations looking for available or free space. At any given time, approximately 30% of traffic congestion in the City can be attributed to vehicles searching for parking.
  • Support the City’s overall access, traffic, and parking and circulation strategy to use parking pricing and the requirement to pay for parking as one way to encourage the use of underutilized spaces through lowering prices in locations where parking demand is reduced.

Why can’t I pay the meter for more time and park all day?

On-street metered parking is generally intended to provide short-term parking options in business and retail districts, promoting parking availability by encouraging turnover. For example, meters near a group of shops and restaurants may be limited to two hours, about enough time for some shopping and a meal. Promoting turnover at on-street parking spaces helps visitors, customers, and residents find short-term parking when needed.

If I can’t park at a meter all day, where can I park?

Longer term parking is available in City-owned parking lots and structures, as well as in various privately owned facilities. You can locate these parking facilities on our real-time parking map or by using our free smart phone app

Why have the meters “zero out” when someone leaves? / Why can’t I give my time to the next person that parks in the space?

Resetting the meter is necessary for the sensor to communicate accurate occupancy data. Having all customers pay for all the time they use reinforces the City’s parking management strategies and is necessary to enable the meters to prevent payment past the posted time limits.

Will you refund any unused amount when you “zero out” my parking meter?

Currently there are significant technological hurdles that make refunding unused meter payments infeasible. Typically, many patrons may buy a little more time at a meter than they think they need, if only for the peace of mind in knowing there is enough time on the meter. If you are worried about overpaying or underpaying for time and risking a citation, you may also park in the City's downtown parking structures which allow 90 minutes of free parking and charge a small amount per hour thereafter.