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For outdated meters, time running out

L.A. officials outline a modernization plan, with the first phase being the replacement of about 10% of the city's 40,000 machines.

September 27, 2007|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

With drivers' complaints soaring about the city's fleet of coin-munching beasts -- its 40,000 or so parking meters -- Los Angeles transportation officials Wednesday revealed more details about their plan to modernize the machines.

The plan is initially to replace about 10% of the city's meters, with installation to begin in November. The last time the city replaced the meters was in the mid-1990s, when officials chose to blanket Los Angeles with just one brand, the Duncan Eagle 2000.

That, in essence, amounted to the city's betting all its chips on a single species of meter -- not the best strategy if the goal is long-term survival.

Perhaps to the surprise of few, the Duncan Eagles have expired over time. One of the problems has been frequent vandalism. The meters have also shown an uncanny ability to go from reading "failed" to resetting, resulting in parking tickets for those who were under the correct impression that it's legal to park at a "failed" meter. Making matters worse, those tickets are often hard to appeal.

City transportation officials delivered the news at a hearing of the City Council's transportation committee at City Hall on Wednesday.

The city says the new single-space meters, manufactured by MacKay Meters and known as the Guardian, are more resistant to vandalism and will generate more revenue.

The amount of money collected from meters has dipped 7% in the last two years, costing the city $1.6 million. Complaints to the city's parking meter hotline have increased 50% in the last three years.

Transportation officials said the meters would be put in 10 locations around town. They are seeking a variety of environments to see how well the meters work -- although it should be noted that Los Angeles picked the Guardian, in part, because it has survived the streets of New York.

In addition, the city plans to replace 5% of its meters with so-called multispace meters that are popular in many other cities around the world. These meters will be installed in city parking lots.

Here's how it works: Joe or Josephine Motorist parks in a numbered spot then goes to the multispace machine and pays with coins, dollar bills or credit cards.

A customer can even order up time via cellphone. Printed monthly parking passes will also be available.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who chairs the council's transportation committee, said she wasn't surprised to hear over recent months how badly broken the city's meters had become.

"As a consumer and as someone who used the parking meters before I was elected, it was clear that this wasn't the best system," Greuel said. "When I became chair of the committee, I became acutely aware of the situation with the outdated and in some cases inoperable meters."

Greuel said that the city plans to replace all 40,000 meters over the next five years. In the meantime, there will be an additional 34,000 or so old meters on duty around town. The city is working on a plan to find a vendor to replace those. "We've got a lot of work to do," said Amir Sedadi, an assistant general manager with the city's transportation agency. "We're excited."

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