Parking meters have made huge strides in recent years, with some of them -- such as pay-by-cell systems -- providing increased convenience to change-starved consumers, while others -- like auto-resetting meters -- have made it harder to get away with modest infractions like picking up a previous parker's minutes. Now, what may be the ultimate in parking convenience, the "personal meter" is starting to catch on in more major cities. The small card readers have been around for several years, but have recently become more popular; last month, Buffalo expanded its pilot system from a service for handicapped drivers to a citywide program. Buffalo's system, like many others, relies on the Smart Park reader, from Israel's Ganis Systems. The card reader can hang from a car's rearview mirror, and can be programmed with a city's parking rules. When a driver parks, he inserts the card into the meter, sets it for his location, and the meter starts ticking away. Enforcement officers with handheld receivers spot-check cars, and issue tickets based on data they download via an IR link. The system definitely sounds convenient, and could eliminate all of those tickets for underestimating how long you're going to be parked. However, we can't help but think it could be improved by adding wireless communication with servers that can automatically track violations and issue tickets. This could be more efficient than the spot-check system, even if it would put Lovely Rita out of a job.

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