I'm the first to admit it. I become very irrational when it comes to paid parking.
I will drive around a block multiple times in the hope of finding a free parking spot before paying.
If I must park at a meter, I seek out one with a flashing green light, meaning there’s still some time left.
Knowing this, you might appreciate why I became quite perturbed at 6:05 p.m. on March 30th when I discovered a City of Vancouver parking meter on West 4th Avenue that didn’t know the time.
Why is it important that a parking meter knows the time? Because an increasing number of meters around Vancouver now charge different rates for different times of day or week.
This meter charged $3 per hour before 6 p.m. and $2 per hour after 6.
Before I left my car for a dinner engagement, I decided to listen to the 6 p.m. CBC news. After a few minutes, I paid to park.
Normally, I use the Pay-by-Phone app. However, since I had many coins in my pocket I inserted $2, only to discover this got me 40 minutes, not 60 minutes as advertised. I was upset.
I was about to add another $2 but decided instead to photograph the parking meter error and tweet it out with the caption “this meter does not know how to tell the time.”
I told my dinner guest about my frustration with a parking meter, adding that if I got a ticket I would contest it. I got a ticket.
This prompted a Facebook post later that evening describing the incident and seeking advice on whether to contest the ticket. Most of my Facebook friends urged me to fight it.
CL wrote: “Yes — contest it. I've seen (parking attendants) standing next to meters waiting for them to hit "0" as the car owner is walking back towards the car...and they then race to give a ticket just as the owner arrives. They are ruthless. This is no longer the nice, kind city that it used to be.”
CR wrote: “How about broken meters? When one swallowed my tooney and gave me nothing in return, I called and was told “that's why you should use your phone app"! Hmm. Double paid. Not good.”
DC had extensive, thoughtful comments, including: “Parking law is, in my experience, profoundly perverse….the offense is not failing to pay, it’s being parked while the meter is expired. Thus, if the meter is broken or functioning improperly, you are still guilty if it shows expired while you’re parked there.”
OJ wrote: “If you can, take one for the team! It's a pain ... but these and other meter problems never get solved because we don't have the time!”
A former city finance official suggested the following: “Just phone 311 and tell them you want to talk to parking enforcement about the ticket. I bet they forgive it.”
I took his advice and spoke to a considerate individual who took down all the details and promised to have someone check the meter and get back to me in writing. She subsequently phoned with bad news. I had to pay.
The meter was determined to be in working order. When I asked to see a copy of the report to determine whether they had checked the clock, I was told I would have to file a Freedom of Information [FOI] request.
Like most Vancouver residents, I do not want to take even more time to contest this ticket. Furthermore, if you read the fine print on the back of the ticket, if the dispute is unsuccessful, instead of a $42 fine you must pay the non-discounted penalty plus a $25 fee. That’s $95.
As this experience demonstrates, parking meters are not infallible. As more parking meter rates are based on time of day and week, I hope the city ensures that other parkers are treated more equitably.
In the meantime, if you encounter a meter that can’t tell the time or is jammed, just phone 311. I will too.
Have you had an experience with a Vancouver parking meter that should be told? If so, write to me and I’ll share the best in a future column.