It's a situation that thousands of Angelenos have faced. You're running late. The street is jammed with cars. There's just one spot left, but as you pull in the meter flashes that irritating message: Fail, Fail, Fail. Should you risk a ticket?
Turns out in L.A. you're in the clear -- the city's meter enforcers aren't supposed to write tickets for parking at a failed meter.
But that wasn't what Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents portions of Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Hollywood, was hearing.
Between 10% and 12% of the city's meters are failing at any given time, according to a recent study by an outside firm. And not only did some of LaBonge's constituents complain about tickets they said resulted from parking at failed meters -- it happened to two of his own aides. On Wednesday, he and other members of the council's Transportation Committee were determined to get to the bottom of the issue.
"There's a lot of short fuses in the world, people are out of work and out of jobs. . . . I want to have a friendly, efficient" Transportation Department, said LaBonge, who stressed that he has "great respect" for the city's traffic officers. "If someone says 'I got a ticket,' henceforth, 'from a failed meter,' we want to know about that, because we don't do that."
Amir Sedadi, assistant general manager of the Transportation Department, assured members that "the policy of the Department of Transportation is not to issue any citations to broken meters." But in some instances, Sedadi said, broken meters can inexplicably snap back into operation, which could be why some Angelenos have been ticketed.
Dan Schwartz, a musician from Silver Lake, told council members that he's been trying to figure out the city's policy since Christmas Eve. He and his daughter received a ticket even though they put a note on their dashboard after parking at a meter that didn't register their coins.
"I would like to feel that this city is not trying to marginalize me into being a petty criminal in order to make money from me," Schwartz said. "And a huge population of this city thinks that that's what's going on here."
Last fiscal year, the city issued 550,000 tickets for expired meters. Of those expired meter tickets, 2% were contested, and about 40% of the complaints were deemed to be valid, transportation officials said.
LaBonge's Los Feliz field deputy, Mary Rodriguez, said many business owners in Los Feliz have complained about parking meters routinely filling up with coins and failing. She is fighting her own citation after parking at a failed meter on New Year's Eve, even though she called the city's parking meter hotline to report the problem.
"It's just very, very confusing for everybody," Rodriguez said.
Sometimes older meters can indicate failed status, then revert back to normal operation, Sedadi said. "Somehow due to vibration, coins being stuck, somebody putting a paper clip [in] it may come out of that state and be acting normal," he said.
The solution lies in replacing old meters, Sedadi added.
Through pilot programs, transportation officials have recently switched 18% of the city's 40,000 meters to more modern technologies like pay stations. They will soon replace an additional 10,000 meters.
Sedadi urged residents to report failed meters online on the city's website or by calling the city's hotline at (877) 215-3958.