There is nothing worse than returning to your car only to discover that your parking meter time limit has expired and you’ve got a parking ticket slapped on to your windscreen.
More-often-than-not it’s only a matter of being a couple of minutes late before an over eager parking attendant spots your expired meter or ticket and issues you a fine.
However, as the people of Chicago are discovering, whilst a minute may be the difference between getting back to the car in time or receiving a ticket, a minute may also be the difference between different parking meters.
It seems the clocks on the 3000 new parking meter pay boxes in Cale, Chicago have been discovered to be unsynchronized. In fact, of the nearly 60 pay boxes observed, most are off at least a minute and in some cases, nearly 2 minutes from what is “actual” time.
This has posed a headache to the firm in charge of parking in the Cale district and they could face legal challenges from the thousands of motorists that have been given tickets from these machine.
The problem with the Cale parking system is that while they claim they regularly calibrate their machine there is no accurate synchronization to a common time reference. In most modern applications UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is used as a base timescale and to synchronize devices, like Cale’s parking meters, a NTP server, linked to an atomic clock will receive UTC time and ensure every device has the exact time.
NTP servers are used in the calibration of not just parking meters but also traffic lights, air traffic control and the entire banking system to name but a few applications and can synchronize every device connected to it to within a few milliseconds of UTC.
It’s a shame Cale’s parking attendants didn’t see the value of of a dedicated NTP time server – I’m sure they are regretting not having one now.