Zombie Parking Meters Come Back From Dead

In Washington D.C., according to the DC Examiner, out of order parking meters are coming back to life and unsuspecting motorists are getting clobbered with tickets.

It seems these dead, zombie meters in DC have been “self-correcting” themselves. A driver will pull into a metered spot, see the meter isn’t working, feel like they hit the jackpot with a free spot. But then the meter resets and comes back to life, the driver may be terrorized with a violation.

Allegedly, this process may repeat itself several times a day with these zombie meters. The result of this meter malfunctioning is increased ticket revenue but a record number (116,354) of complaints.

I think this is something we need to be on the look out for here in Chicago.

Big thanks to Grant and Mike for the tip.

Here’s the full story.

Many ‘broken’ parking meters fixing themselves

By Michael Neibauer

Two-thirds of all District parking meters reported broken turn out to be operational when a repair crew arrives on-site, a staggering statistic partly explained by the number of oft-failing meters that self-correct.

Grievance calls about the D.C.’s aging meter stock hit a record 116,354 in 2008, but that figure bears little relationship to the number of actual broken meters, D.C. Department of Transportation officials recently told a D.C. Council committee. Crews dispatched to repair a broken meter, the agency says, found the device operating as intended 67 percent of the time.

How is this possible? One explanation, according to DDOT, is that 74 percent of D.C.’s 15,453 meters are designed to self-correct, but are also “at the end of their useful life.” So a person who parks at a meter displaying a “fail” message may return an hour later to find a working meter flashing zero time and a ticket on the windshield — a process that may repeat several times a day.

DDOT has no way of checking whether a meter had failed at a given time, said John Lisle, agency spokesman, though the department does look at a meter’s breakdown and repair history when a person challenges a parking ticket.

“It was a news flash to me that we had this huge number of meters that are self-repairing,” Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, chairman of the public works committee, said Thursday. “These are like Lazarus meters. It could account for a lot of anger we have in this city.”

DDOT is moving to replace its self-correcting meters with newer technology, including pay-by-cell phone devices, but the project has been slowed by budget cuts. By June, the agency said, 17 percent of the old meters will have been removed, but they will still account for 57 percent of the meter inventory.

Aging equipment does not alone explain the huge disparity between complaint calls and genuinely broken meters. Other reasons, according to DDOT: multiple calls about the same meter, and customers falsely reporting a broken meter to get out of a ticket.

Acting DDOT Director Gabe Klein also promised a closer examination of the work performed by Texas-based ACS State and Local Solutions, which is paid $4 million a year to keep D.C.’s 17,157 metered spaces running smoothly.

For failing to meet certain performance measures, ACS paid DDOT $278,380 in damages in 2007, but only $43,070 in 2008. The steep decline may be the result of more rigorous contract oversight and field reviews, Klein said, but it also raises questions about the work ACS is doing.

“If they’re resolving [meter complaints] for some reason before they’re going out to fix them, then that’s a problem and it could be why we’re collecting less damages,” Klein said.

2 Responses to Zombie Parking Meters Come Back From Dead

  1. OakParkParker says:

    I’ve received that ticket here in Oak Park. Parked at the only available meter in the lot, noticed it was flashing and wouldn’t take money, then returned to find a ticket and a working meter. My theory has been that the meters stop working when they are full (since they raised all the rates here to 15 minutes or 10 minutes for a quarter, they need to empty the meters more often.) So then a parking person comes by to empty the meter, corrects the “broken” meter, and issues a ticket at the same time. Nice profit center!

    The meters seem to constantly be out of order here – now I take a photo with my phone of the error message before I leave. So far I haven’t had another ticket to test whether that will work as a defense.

  2. DoR Employee says:

    In Chicago…the Laz employees are not currently being allowed to Issue for expired meters.

    So if they repair and/or Empty the meter……..you only have to worry about Revenue/CPD/Traffic Aides finding you first.

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