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Broken parking meter no free ride

Despite new state law, L.A. will continue to ticket drivers who use the flawed devices.

December 06, 2012|Wesley Lowery

Los Angeles motorists beware: If the parking meter won't take your change, find another spot.

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to uphold a policy that makes it illegal to park at spaces with broken meters. City transportation officials said violations issued at non-working meters generate about $5 million a year in revenue for the city.

The action exercises an option for cities to override a new state law that greatly limits the practice of issuing tickets to drivers who park at malfunctioning meters. Under the state law, motorists may park for free at broken meters up to the maximum time allowed for the space.

The council reaffirmed the city's 2-year-old policy of ticketing cars at flawed meters on a 12-1 vote, with Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Jan Perry the lone opponent.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, December 10, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 99 words Type of Material: Correction
Parking meters: In the Dec. 6 LATExtra section, an article about a Los Angeles City Council vote upholding a policy making it illegal to park in spaces with broken meters said that tickets issued at non-working meters generate about $5 million a year in revenue for the city. The city's Department of Transportation says the $5-million figure it used was an estimate of meter revenue that would be lost because of increased vandalism if free parking were allowed at broken meters. Revenue from tickets issued at broken meters is negligible because newer meters rarely break down, the department says.

Officials said that allowing the state law to take effect would cost the city a sizable chunk of ticket and parking fee revenue, and would encourage meter vandalism.

"Meter vandalism has become extremely rare," said transportation department official Dan Mitchell. Since the city began switching to meters that take credit cards and coins -- and banned parking at broken meters -- only about five meters each month have required repairs, he said.

Before 2010 -- when Los Angeles allowed free parking at broken meters -- roughly 10% of the city's parking meters were broken at any time, Mitchell said.

But vandalism problems declined sharply when the city began replacing its roughly 40,000 parking meters with more advanced devices that include red stickers warning that tickets will be issued when meters are broken.

The meters, which are expected to be installed citywide by the end of the year, automatically message transportation employees of operational problems and are typically back in service within three hours, officials said.

The updated meters have cut down on parking complaints in his district, Councilman Bill Rosendahl said. "The technology we now have employed is rather fantastic," he said.

The state law requires cities to post notices on meters if they ticket when the devices are broken. Sponsors of the legislation said their primary objective was to force cities to alert drivers when they risk getting a ticket.

"It's really fair to the driving public. If the parking meter is broken and if you can't physically pay, then you shouldn't be ticketed," said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), who sponsored the state law.

Cities had adopted inconsistent policies that created confusion and frustration, DeSaulnier said. In some cities, an inoperable meter meant a few hours of free parking, he said. In others, it meant an expensive parking ticket.

"The main objective of this law is to make sure motorists know the rules," said Steve Finnegan, government affairs manager for Auto Club of Southern California, which backed the broken meter bill.

Councilman Tom LaBonge praised the new meters, but cautioned his colleagues against utilizing technological advances that could erase time left on a meter when a car pulls away. That would be going too far, he said.

"I think there is a certain joy in life in the city of Los Angeles when you pull up to a parking meter [and] there is a little bit of time left on it," he said. "I think the city needs that joy."

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wesley.lowery@latimes.com

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