Boston parking meters require minimum charge in violation of Visa, MasterCard rules

Boston drivers who plan to pay with a credit card at the city’s new parking meters may end up buying more time than they need.  The new high-tech parking meters were installed October 19, 2006, in the Back Bay on Newbury Street between Arlington and Exeter and take credit cards and debit cards, in addition to coins and dollar bills.  But according to signs on the meters, “the minimum charge for card payments will be two hours,” or $2.

That minimum payment requirement is in violation of rules from credit card associations Visa and MasterCard, which prohibit merchants from requiring purchases made with plastic to be more than a certain amount.  Visa’s rules, for example, state that merchants are required  to take a valid credit card or debit card for a purchase regardless of price, with setting a minimum or maximum amount in violation of those rules.  

According to a spokeswoman for Visa, most of the time, educating merchants about the card association’s rules through discussion is enough to resolve any violations. 

Meanwhile, Boston’s transportation commissioner said he was unaware of the rule against minimum credit card or debit card purchases.

A report in the Boston Globe indicated that the new meters are generating 34 percent more money per parking space that the previous meters, and possibly significantly more. However, several drivers reported that revenue has increased because the new meters force people paying with dollar bills and credit cards to buy a minimum amount of time and do not permit drivers to use the time left on the meters by earlier parkers.  Drivers paying with dollar bills are required to purchase an hour’s worth of time on the meter. 

The deputy director of Boston’s Transportation Department said that the city chose to require a two-hour purchase with a credit card due to the convenience provided and the fees involved in processing credit card payments.  While Visa declined to comment, it did say the card association has established programs to keep the cost of processing small purchases, like parking and tolls, fair.

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Updated: 03-25-2019