German City Taxes Prostitutes with a Sidewalk Meter

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A ticket machine, resembling a parking meter, can be used by street prostitutes in Bonn, Germany

The oldest profession in the book just got a new chapter.

The German city of Bonn has come up with an idea that you don’t read about every day: it’s installed a meter to tax prostitutes for soliciting on its streets at a rate of six euros ($8.70) per night.

And the authorities don’t see this as a novelty news item, but are being deadly serious about carrying it out, with those failing to pay facing the prospect of fines or even a ban from their line of work.

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Irrespective of earnings, prostitutes are expected to pay this flat rate, but a prostitutes’ rights activist said that the scheme essentially amounted to double taxation. “This has nothing to do with fiscal equality,” said Juanita Rosina Henning, of the Dona Carmen prostitute support group. She wants the meter to be removed, claiming that the prostitutes are already paying income tax.

But it thus far remains in place and Isabelle Klotz, a spokeswoman for Bonn, said the city expected to get about 200,000 euros ($285,000) per year from the tax. “Women who work in brothels also pay the tax, but until now it had been difficult to get women on the street to pay,” said Klotz. “Thanks to this new method we will be able to tax them in all fairness with the others.”

And what of the actual meter itself? It resembles an ordinary looking parking meter, and was placed in an industrial area near the city center which is a supposed hot spot for prostitutes and their clients. Just as with an actual parking meter, the machine also tells users the times of day when a ticket is needed, which is between 8:15 p.m. and 6:00 a.m, Monday to Sunday. It was built by Siemens (no chuckling in the back) and cost $11,575, including installation. What’s more, the city has also built wooden garages for people to park their cars and do the dirty deed, if they so desire.

And while tax has been levied on prostitutes elsewhere in Germany (Dortmund, for example, requires prostitutes to buy tickets from gas stations), Bonn is the first place to try a meter. By the end of its opening weekend, it had collected $382 for the city. Whatever you feel about the scheme, you can never fault the Germans for their efficiency. (via BBC)

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Glen Levy is an Executive Producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.