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Ask Matt ... how meter maids went high tech

Q. How does the city know if my car is in violation of downtown parking rules?

   Trust me, they know. The city of Hendersonville is not chalking tires anymore. Welcome to the digital age. The new downtown parking system has some cool stuff. New solar-powered black pedestal kiosks that take your money with cash, credit card, debit card or pay by phone. I’ll skip the payment system and just say that the city’s parking website has all you need to know about where to park, how much, and even an adjudication process. The new parking system uses the same technology used for automated toll booths — license plate recognition or LPR for short. Kristen Narron, Hendersonville’s parking services supervisor, knows how it all works.

   Once you park your car (front first only) you walk up to the closest black pedestal kiosk to pay. Press the silver button and the touch screen on the kiosk will ask you four things: your vehicle license number, a 5-digit parking zone number, how much time you need, and how you want to pay. Punch those in and suddenly you are part of a very big database. OK, not really you, but your car is. Now along comes a parking services staff member driving a car with a scanner on the roof and a laptop on the passenger seat. Every car parked in a city lot, in the 253-space parking deck and on Main Street or its side streets get scanned on a random basis – probably three or four times a day. If you are paid up, you are safe. If you didn’t pay or if you exceeded your limit, the parking attendant knows immediately and stops to put a citation on your windshield — typically 50 bucks. Busted!

   The whole LPR system is a product of the Canadian security company Genetec. The scanner is an AutoVu SharpZ3 model that sports three optical sensors. And yes, the scanner works just fine in the rain. The system costs $46,739 including the server, software, training and integration. And those sleek black solar-powered kiosks? They go for around $9,000 apiece.