MTA: Prepaid cards gaining popularity at The City’s meters

Three months ago, Annie Blackman said she decided to do something about her growing pile of parking tickets.

The interior designer always found herself short of change for the meters and often would push her luck, gambling on not being snagged by one of The City’s meter maids. After receiving a number of tickets in September, she learned about a pilot program that allowed drivers to leave their coins in the couch and use a prepaid card to pay for parking meters.

“[I] used to get tickets all the time because I would push it without change [and] I got frustrated and did this,” she said. “It’s like a prepaid credit card.”

Introduced last December with only 1,500 cards, the pilot program has been popular mainly because of its convenience, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency. It works with all of The City’s 23,000 single-space parking meters and 250 multispace meters. The cards can be purchased in $20 or $50 increments from 30 stores across The City, ranging from supermarkets to smoke shops.

The program has been so popular that cards purchased during the first year of the pilot program, which were supposed to expire at the end of this year, will be extended until the end of 2007, according to the authority.

The City began replacing meters in 2002 to prepare for the new system. Instead of taking coins, the meters read a chip embedded within the card when users swipe it, similar to using an ATM card. The meter window then shows how much money is left on the card and then begins to deduct time in 25-cent increments until the cardholder pulls the card out.

The one small inconvenience with the new system is that cards cannot be filled after they have run out of money and they do not work with meters run by the Port of San Francisco, which are located along the Embarcadero.

Cardholder Jen Arturo said she enjoys being able to walk without having change in her pockets.

“It’s a convenience factor for me,” she said. “It’s annoying to have your pockets weighed down with change. This makes sense and is a long time coming.”

The cards will eventually work with TransLink, a long-anticipated program expected to allow Bay Area transit riders to use one pass for all 20-plus of the region’s public transportation systems by 2010.

Basics about prepaid parking card

» Cardholders can use the card at more than 23,000 meters in The City, instead of coins, by swiping it in the meter.

» The card can be bought in$20 and $50 increments and users are charged in 25-cent increments at meters.

» The card cannot be refilled after its monetary value has run out. A new one must be bought.

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