There is nothing cool about ‘LUKE’

    Many of my blogs tend to take parting shots at grouchy old men. In this particular blog, I AM the grouchy old man.

    Let me preface this by saying I am not a technophobe. Like our president, I "do the Google" and believe "the Internets" are wonderful things. (Oh man, my side hurts every time I hear those sound bytes.)

    Second, let me say that I’m not the first person to sound off about this subject. But it’s got to be said, nonetheless, even if I’m piling on.

    If you haven’t visited or done business in Downtown Milwaukee for a while, let me warn you about something that is likely to puzzle you the next time you’re there. Its name is LUKE. That’s the name of the new parking meters in downtown Milwaukee. LUKE. Just plain ol’ LUKE.

    In "Phase One" of a project, the City of Milwaukee is installing 103 multi-space LUKE parking meters to accommodate nearly 1,200 parking spaces Downtown. This equates to approximately 11 parking spaces per LUKE meter.

    The old single-space parking meters have been replaced by space markers that identify the parking space number.

    In theory, here’s the way LUKE works. You park your vehicle. You find the nearest LUKE meter. You punch in the number of your parking space. You pay 25 cents per 15-minute increment. You can pay by credit card or coins. And you live happily ever after.

    This theory works fine for people, like myself, who work downtown and figured out the system. After all, you’d think that in this digital age, digital parking meters would be cool.

    But here’s the problem. For people who aren’t familiar with LUKE, there is absolutely no guidance as to what you’re supposed to do when you park Downtown. Each parking spot has a little sign with a number. There is no explanation for what the number means. It’s just a number.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll walk a half block down and see a sign that says there is metered parking on that street. And if you’re lucky again, you’ll walk another half block and find a strange-looking meter thing with a big letter "P" on it. And if you’re even luckier, you’ll deduce that the meter is what you’re supposed to look at when you park on that street. And if you’re luckier still, you’ll figure out that you’re supposed to pay for your parking spot at that meter, even though you’ve parked a half block away.

    You see, there are no signs explaining any of that. None.

    A suggestion for City Hall: Put some stickers on the parking spot number signs that say something like, "Welcome to the City of Milwaukee. Please take note of the number of your parking spot. Please go to the nearest parking meter box, marked by the letter ‘P.’ Please enter your parking spot number and pay the appropriate fees for parking in our fair city. Have a nice day."

    And there’s one other big problem with ol’ LUKE. When the sun is shining, you have virtually no chance of reading LUKE, because of the glare.

    This system was poorly designed and poorly executed. And you can bet there are a lot of folks who are incurring parking tickets because of it.

    Someone needed to do some research here. Last year, the Bellingham City Council approved the installation of LUKE along the streets near the Western Washington State University campus. After several complaints from businesses that said the meters were driving customers away from the neighborhood, the council repealed its mistake and removed LUKE, which is manufactured by Digital Payment Technologies (DPT) of British Columbia, Canada.

    And what’s up with the name, LUKE, anyway?

    According to Cecilia Gilbert, permits and communications manager for the Milwaukee Department of Public Works, "The company that makes the meters named the meters after the character in the ‘Cool Hand Luke’ movie, Paul Newman. In the beginning of the movie, Paul Newman knocks the heads off the parking meters and is arrested for doing so."’

    Well, that’s about the only thing cool about LUKE.


    Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.


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