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Common complaint: Busted or baffling meters

wiggins-james (2).jpg
Terraine Wiggins, left, and Dion James adjust parking sign on Water Street SW. (Thomson)

I've already got a bunch of letters responding to my column about Metro's upcoming decisions about fares and service and my Commuter page story on the changes in the D.C. street parking rules. Here's one about the parking situation that reflects a common concern. I'll publish more here and in upcoming columns.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I live in Southwest Washington and bike to work and to most events in the evening, unless it's very cold or rainy. I have noticed the dramatic increase in meter fees, and would accept this reluctantly were it not for the fact that the system has some serious faults: Many of the machines are out of order and those that work are difficult to use.

A couple of weeks ago, I parked on 9th Street NW (Chinatown) and had to visit three parking machines before I found one that worked. I even had to ask a parking enforcement agent where I could find one, since those close to the car were out of order. By the time I got back to my car (about 10 minutes later), I had gotten a ticket from a colleague of his, which of course enraged me.

Yesterday, I parked on 10th Street NW (intersection E Street), and the machine close by the car was broken (a credit card was stuck in it) but the second machine I visited worked. However, the machines have a manufacturing problem: They ask you to push the credit card all the way in, but if you do, so little of it remains outside that it is nearly impossible to pull it back out.

And if your fingers are frozen stiff or sweaty -- both common occurrences in DC -- it is impossible to do this quickly as one is urged to do by the machine. And so the transaction is canceled, causing great consternation. I had to ask a man, who had fatter fingers and a a stronger grip, to help me pull out my credit card.

I just spent two years in Miami and there they have excellent machines that not only spit out your credit card when it has been read, but also allow you to pay by cellular phone, requiring no hassle with cards or quarters. Maybe bureaucrats in DC should have done their research better before investing in what I presume is a very expensive new system that is proving to be very frustrating to many of its users.
-- Isabel Hagbrink
The District

The District, aware of how many people are bothered by the condition of the meters, is planning some pilot projects that will test convenient and user-friendly parking systems of the type found elsewhere in this country and overseas. Look to see some in use later this year.

The D.C. government had approved various changes in the street parking system over the past year that require changes in the meters and the street signs. The District Department of Transportation figured it had better get on with making those changes and didn't want to have to change the 100,000 street signs and 17,000 meters more than once in a short period of time, so it went ahead with the current plan.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 11, 2010; 9:26 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  | Tags: DC traffic, District Department of Transportation, Dr. Gridlock, parking enforcement  
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Downtown Baltimore also uses parking machines. The difference is that these are rarely out of order and are easy to use. In particular, it is easy to insert and remove your credit card. Perhaps DC should look into this?

Posted by: Chaucer2 | January 11, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

This situation is really getting bizarre. I have seen in different parts of the city where meters are laying on the ground beside spots that housed them on posts...and they are STILL working!

Ahahaha! DC needs to get it together because visitors are going to think this city is chuck full of cuckoos.

Posted by: cbmuzik | January 11, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Multiple times in the last week, I was unable to get any of those horrible green machines to read any of the debit or credit cards in my wallet. I get the impression that they don't work in the freezing temps we had, and that's not all that unusual in DC. I get why we needed to replace the old parking meters, but these poorly manufactured units are just going to generate more parking ticket revenue than convenience. And I did not find the "broken meter hotline number" on any of them, just the old version of the citywide 311 number.

Posted by: milkmayun | January 11, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

DC really really really doesn't want me to drive there, does it? I wish meter rates weren't going up but I wouldn't mind so much if the rules were clear and the meters worked.

Posted by: KS100H | January 11, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

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