Software errors are generally considered a loss for all parties involved – users lose functionality, vendors lose revenue, etc. – but a recent glitch allowed Minneapolis drivers to enjoy more than a day of free downtown parking. The issue, which occurred during an update to the city’s digital parking meter system, left 138 on-street pay stations inoperable, leading the city to grant a short-term parking amnesty on affected spaces as crews worked to correct the issue.
Minneapolis uses more than 600 of the solar-powered pay stations, which accept debit and credit cards as well as cash and are increasingly replacing traditional coin-operated street meters, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Since first adding the meters in late 2010, the city has seen a significant rise in revenue, and more than half of its parking space transactions are now conducted by credit or debit card.
However, the potential for problems such as embedded software issues has also increased, and motorists who tried to make payments were greeted with an error message reading “loading parameter,” MPR News reported. The city had to send crews out to manually patch and restart each affected meter, which took all of a Tuesday and part of the next Wednesday. According to Jon Wertjes, head of the city’s Public Works Department, Minneapolis has not yet determined how much revenue it will lose as a result.
This incident is not the first time digital parking meters have given public officials a headache. In 2011, the Canadian city of Saskatoon revealed that it had had to increase parking enforcement to address the problem of people exploiting a flaw with payment cards on its digital system, IEEE reported. The city determined that the loss of revenue and cost of enforcement combined were still less than fixing the bug. To avoid costly fixes – or only slightly less costly workarounds – system vendors can implement more careful coding strategies, using tools such as static analysis to catch bugs before they reach the market.
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