Do you know how to use a parking meter? Serious question.

by Paul Michael on 4 December 2008 30 comments
Photo: Nahh

I thought I knew the answer to that. Admittedly, I’ve only been driving for seven years and rarely park in downtown Denver, where most of our parking meters are located. But I had familiarized myself with the rules before I took my driving test. I thought I had it down. I guess I was wrong.

My family and I decided to spend Monday doing a little shopping in a terrific area of Denver that has all sorts of funky old stores. Of course, old stores means no parking lots. Instead, it’s street parking with plenty of meters.

We found a meter, put in enough money for two hours and went on our merry way. We did some shopping, had a bite to eat, watched our two girls argue over a piece of battered fish, you know, the usual stuff. I looked at my watch and was worried we didn’t have enough time to get back to the car, but when there was still 20 minutes on the meter when we opened the car door.

We strapped the kids into the car seats, talked about our next destination and then I checked my mirrors before pulling out. That’s when I noticed the obnoxious yellow envelope jammed into my left wing mirror.

We thought it was a piece of crappy advertising at first, but sure enough, it was a violation. We couldn’t figure it out. We had plenty of time left, we hadn’t parked crooked or too far out into the road, we were genuinely puzzled.

So, we called the toll-free number at the bottom and spoke to a representative of the city. She asked how much the fine was for and what the officer’s notes were. Then she told me exactly what my violation was; my front bumper wasn’t fully behind the parking meter. This was a violation of something called ordinance number 54-513. Here’s the write-up:

Improper Use of Meter Space, ordinance number 54-513, was enacted to ensure that citizens park in such a way as to occupy only one parking space. Your front bumper must not extend past the meter pole.

A couple of things really bugged me about this. First, I was maybe a foot in front of the pole, due to the fact that the guy behind me wasn’t obeying ordinance number 54-513 and I had to give him room to pull out. Second, and even more annoying, was that I was at the end of the street. There were no spaces in front of me, just 10ft of curb and a corner. So, I wasn’t occupying anyone else’s space anyway.

However, I had violated ordinance number 54-513 and I now have to pay the $25 asap, or it becomes a $50 fine. I can, of course, take time off work and spend half a day waiting to see a magistrate so that I can dispute this violation, but I just don’t have the time.

Does ordinance number 54-513 apply in your city? I really don’t know. It may have a different name, it may not apply at all. But I would definitely play it safe and make sure no part of your bumper is extending past the parking meter pole. You don’t want to pay a silly fine, especially at this time of year.

And, while we’re on the subject of parking meters, here are some other basic rules and guidelines that we all should know.

1: Most meters give you around two hours of parking. Some give you less. In really busy areas, it may be only 30 minutes.

2: Rates vary according to the meter and location. Some give you way more time for your quarter than others, so check that out before you pull away.

3: You shouldn’t feed the meter: If the regulation allows for a certain amount of time, usually two hours, you are not supposed to run back to the meter and add more quarters. This is being a meter hog and it can get you a violation if the parking control officer is keeping an eye on your length of stay.

4: There are NO free all-day parking passes. If you’re at a meter that’s broken, you can’t claim ignorance and park for the whole day. In NYC specifically, you’re allowed one hour at a broken meter, even if the meter allows longer stays. In your city, it may be longer. And if your meter is missing completely (a pole with no meter) don’t take this as free all-day parking either. Usually, that missing meter means you can park for the allotted time on that street. Any more and you’re risking the wrath of the meter maid.

5:  Don’t park on someone’s dime. Even if there's plenty of time left on the meter that was paid by a previous driver, you are supposed to add their own money on top of that. No free parking folks.

6: Don’t top up someone else’s meter. Why would you, right? But if you see some old lady struggling to walk back to her car, and the meter has ran out, you can’t go topping it up to help her avoid a ticket. In NYC, these random acts of kindness obstruct official business. By adding money, you’re robbing the city of potential revenue. And the last thing you want to do is get in between a city and its cash.

7: If you’re in a busy city with lots of meters, keep plenty of change in the car at all times. You don’t want to park, run and get change, and come back to a parking ticket.

8: Some new electronic parking meters let you pay with change or a debit card. Miami is one city that’s testing this out.

9: Meters are free in my city on Sundays. Check your meter to see if/when the meter allows free parking.

10: And if there are no meters, you’re not off the hook. Unmetered parking has plenty of potential landmines to avoid, too. Here are just a few:

  • Make sure there are no “restricted parking” signs or “no parking” signs on the block.
  • On some days, parking is prohibited for street cleaning.
  • Keep your wheels off the curb or sidewalk, for obvious reasons.
  • Don’t park next to a hydrant. Expect a ticket at the very least, or something worse if the fire department needs to use that hydrant.
  • Some streets require that you move your car after two hours. Don’t move, get a ticket.
  • In parking lots, make sure it’s not restricted to employees or pass-holders. You could get towed.
  • Some sneaky towing firms will hide warnings behind trees or put them above your natural eye line. Look around carefully before parking.

If you have any more tips or parking meter knowledge, let us know. And if you’re a parking control officer, let us in on some of your fabulous inside info.

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Guest's picture
Joseph

That is exactly why I never go downtown -- I can't stand the parking hassles and I refuse to pay for parking. I love the parking in the suburbs -- vast oceans of parking spaces all for free...gets my business every time.

Guest's picture
Julie

Go to the suburbs for the parking? We moved *from* the suburbs at great cost just to get away from mile after mile of concrete, strip malls and chain restaurants. We live in the Highlands, and were able to donate one of our cars because we can walk everywhere. But we're also fans of population density and its efficiencies, and we'll do whatever we can to encourage people to use alternative methods of transportation to their cars.

Guest's picture
FrugalZen

Smarter as well.

Here in Orlando they now have meters that incorporate a "presence detector", for lack of a better phrase, so that when you pull your car out it automatically resets to Zero on the time.

They get to Double or Triple Charge for the same minutes and you don't get the chance to use up what somene has left.

And they wonder why Downtowns are dying...I only go to downtown under the direst of circumstances only because I feel because I pay the taxes that maintain the streets I shouldn't have to pay extra to park on them.

~ Roland

Guest's picture
spaces

No parking hours trump meters. Meaning, even if you put, say, two hours on a meter, if that part of the street converts to no parking during those two hours, you will get a ticket and/or towed for parking illegally during the no parking time period.

Also look out for meters that are reserved for handicapped vehicles.

Guest's picture
Marisa

Frustratingly, when I was a student (hence: no garage), I came out one morning to find that the city had put up "2-hour only" parking signs on my street. Overnight. And that exactly 2 hours after they had done so, they sent out a meter maid to ticket all the cars on the street for violating it.

When I went to contest the ticket, I was yelled at for parking in the street *at all*, even though it was 100% legal, because the employee at city hall felt that parking in the street was "dangerous." More than ten years later, it still pisses me off.

Guest's picture
poor boomer

New meters have the ability to eliminate the free parking 'float' that occurs when the previous occupant of a parking space pays for more time than they use.

There are new meters that, when fed, print out a ticket with the expiration time and date. These tickets have a gummed tab (like a sticky Post It note) that the driver sticks to the inside of the door (driver or passenger - varies locally) window so that the ticket faces out. When the driver leaves, they take the ticket with them, and the next driver has to pay for their own ticket.

And a common way time restrictions are enforced is to mark tires (on the tread) with chalk - in a two-hour zone, a car with a chalk mark is in violation if it's still there two hours after being marked. When the driver leaves, the chalk wears away from road contact.

Check the meter (usually inside the glass) for hours of operation. Meters are usually enforced during daytime hours Monday through Saturday, often 7am to 6pm, sometimes later.

Guest's picture
Carrie

That's just ridiculous. Either Denver is getting really desperate for revenue or you got a meter reader with a chip on his/her shoulder, but you should not stand for that. You can't contest by mail?

Chicago's city council is as I type this plotting to quadruple our meter rates and eliminate free Sundays. I have such mixed feelings about this. On one hand, since street parking in Chicago has long been much cheaper than private lots, the city has been subsidizing drivers for years. It's actually good policy to charge a higher rate for the luxury of driving downtown than for taking public transit. BUT ... anyone who lives in Chicago knows that the money the city takes from us does not do us any good. It doesn't improve the El or other public transit. It disappears into the pockets of insiders and their cousins.

Guest's picture
Paul

If I ever get a parking ticket like this I take the oppurtunity for a spot of creative writing! So I will work out whatever the fine is, say £30, then with the minimum wage being £5 something an hour. For me to recoup that money from them in fun will take about 12 letters if we assume it takes about half an hour for them to deal with each letter.

Now the fun part! Write to them with a completely crazy letter that asks lots of questions and just rambles on and on for a good few pages (A4 size as a minimum) it doesn't matter if you go off topic, just keep writing as much as you can. For some reason this has gotten me out of two (unjust) parking fines :P After reading the first letter they just seem to not want to deal with you and cancel the fine!

Guest's picture
Guest

Quit shopping downtown and let merchants know why.

Guest's picture
Ellen

I'm puzzled by #6. The city is still getting the money you add to the meter. Are there really cases of people getting in trouble for helping others?

Guest's picture
Andrew

Yes, and I actually saw it on the show Jackass. They had a guy in a fairy costume going around putting quarters into expired meters. The meter maids were *pissed*. It seems ridiculous, but the city must make a lot of money on tickets to get so high-n-mighty about it.

And I really don't see the problem of using the leftover time of someone else. They paid for that much parking time, what's it matter if I use it? Me putting money into it too only extends the time for the next guy. I'm glad the town I live in doesn't have the zero-out meters.

Guest's picture
pamphyila

Here in L.A. where parking is at a premium, sometimes parking at a broken meter is unavoidable - so I have learned to put a note on the street side of the windshield stating that I TRIED to put in $ at such & such a time - which, if you are not stopping long, usually avoids problems - because the meter probably has not been reported broken - I ALSO found out in another parking snafu that the number scrawled in what looked like red nailpolish on the meter was its official number - which I had to look up one time to verify that the meter had been broken at the time.

As for signs put out in the middle of the night - ILLEGAL. I found out in L.A. by going to the citycouncil person's office that they were SUPPOSED to have put up warning signs and had a GRACE period! So the ticket was wiped! So check with your local representative - that's what they are there for.

In fact, many dubious tickets can be successfully contested as irrational - who would know that obscure ordinance - You could have taken a picture (we all have camera phones now) and proved that because of the other drivers you were FORCED to park as you did.

I have made these consumer complaints mostly by mail, too. Given enough evidence, the cases usually fall apart - as they are so unused to facing any opposition whatsoever...

So I encourage you to fight these tickets whenever you feel you are in the right.

Guest's picture
Guest

Our downtown revived itself with two things: free downtown parking on weekends and evenings after 6:00 PM, and police on bicycles to maintain security. Our downtown is no longer dead--it's the place to go (and the place to live).

Guest's picture
nancy

Here in Albuquerque, hybrid owners can obtain a sticker for their vehicles which allows free parking at meters.

Guest's picture
Guest

Where do I get this sticker for my Prius?

Guest's picture
Jimmy37

Park in front of a fire hydrant at your own peril! :)

There's a picture on the 'net of a fire hose going through a car's windows because it was parked in front of a fire hydrant. LOL!

Guest's picture
Ann

Just because this happened to me...

Make sure your tags aren't expired. I don't park downtown too often and where I normally park and drive around there aren't a lot of cops checking. So, when I parked at a meter downtown, at a place where cops are constantly checking, I got a ticket because my tags were expired. So, make sure you don't make my mistake.

Guest's picture
Guest

A meter maid was waiting next to a vehicle about to expire. My husband ran over and put a quarter in and was told it was illegal to do that. My husband said that it was his car and walked away. Crazy. The sad part is there are so many older folks in this area that it probably was one of them at the doctor's (medical center area).

Another time, he got a ticket for being over the "line". The reason he was over the line was because a police car was over the line behind him and he wanted to give him room to pull out.

It's a work situation so it's not like we have much of a choice with these crazy parking rules.

Guest's picture
Vince

I'm from the 'Cool Hand Luke' school of using parking meters. Who's with me? Anybody? Anyone?

Guest's picture
Jay Reeder

Free parking isn't the answer. "Not driving" is the answer.

New York isn't New York because of its excellent parking. It's where the entire world wants to live because you can *walk* (or take transit) to everything.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

"But if you see some old lady struggling to walk back to her car, and the meter has ran out, you can’t go topping it up to help her avoid a ticket. In NYC, these random acts of kindness obstruct official business. By adding money, you’re robbing the city of potential revenue."

Sure, I can help her out so she won't get a ticket. I really don't care if official business is obstructed for a few minutes, or if the city loses a few dollars because I put another quarter in the meter for someone who is physically struggling. Geez, I hope when I'm old and frail that someone would help me out if I needed it.

Guest's picture
MaryM

We have to use parking meters every day @work - the only parking is either a metered garage or metered parking on the street. The County will only forgive ONE ticket per person - and since most people have been working here for years, everyone pretty much has had @least one ticket. And they've been writing tickets like crazy even though people have paid in many cases. McShady.

Moreover, they've also just extended the metered hours from 7am-10pm (was til 7pm).

Guest's picture
Marion

Move to Barack Obama's Chicago, where we've not only decided to hike public transit fares for 2009, but the City Council just voted yesterday to hike parking meter rates 400 percent, eliminating free holiday, Sunday, and overnight parking. So start hoarding quarters! Oh and did I mention that the city's privatizing the meters? That the alderman were given 72 hours to consider a 75-year $1.0+ billion contract that will hit the poorest Chicagoans the hardest? Change you can believe in!

Back to the new meter rates. You'll need $1 for every hour. You can only put money for two hours into a meter. So if you parked overnight (when it's free) on a metered street before, get ready to set your alarm so you can wake up and go feed the meter every TWO hours. It's that or add to the congested side street parking. Parking downtown? Bend over, Obama and his butt buddies Dick Daley & Co. are gonna give it to ya good!

Did I mention that Chicago has the highest sales tax (11 percent) in America?

Change you can believe in!

Guest's picture
Meg

I would certainly not put money in a meter if there was already sufficient time left from the previous parker. Me putting in money on top of that just enables the next guy to park free on my dime.

Guest's picture
Bill M

Where I live we can park close to the entrances if you own a hybrid

Guest's picture
Guest

next summer, and I want to know where this funky shopping area is! Little help?

Guest's picture
Guest

"Move to Barack Obama's Chicago... Change you can believe in!"

What anything in your ridiculous post has to do with Barack Obama, I fail to see.

He was a Senator, and last time I checked, they don't really run cities.

Guest's picture
Angry Coloradoan

I live in Denver Proper and we have meters on my residential street. However, as a resident of the street I can apply for a permit and be allowed to park on my own block without having to pay the meter. They signs say you must pay the meter, or have a permit for block #DB.

A few months after getting my permit, I got a ticket for parking two far from the curb. Mind you, there is a huge pot hole in front of my house, if I put my wheel in it, the bumper would hit the ground. The ticket states my front wheel was 10.5 inches from the curb. I called and was told that I can't park more than 10 inches from the curb. I asked what to do if there is a hole making it dangerous to park so close, they told me to park somewhere else or I will get a ticket. I said I now know and since ignorance is no excuse, I would pay it, but I would like it if they could assure me that my fine would go to wards repairing the street. They said they could not assure me of that, so instead, they will reduce my fine by 50%. That was two years ago, and the hole is still not fixed.

Then today, I got a ticket for extending beyond the meter pole, just like the poster. This is after almost 3 years of parking in front of my own house. Great! And I was 1" over, I frickin measured it! I called and was told this is a brand new law, and has not been publicized, and that the only way to appeal this is to appear in person, during work hours. That isn't possible, I will loose more that $25 in pay, if I took half a day off. They assured me, the law was posted on the wall of city hall, so I have no excuse to not know about it. Who goes to City Hall? And just like the poster, I am at the end of my block, I was not stopping anyone from parking anywhere.

Denver is becoming a bureaucratic nightmare to live in.

Carrie Kirby's picture

Obnoxious!

Guest's picture
Soozn

I just got a parking ticket for this very reason. I have been driving for 48 years and grew up on the East coast- where I have plenty of experience parking by meters. Never in my life have I gotten a ticket for such a more ludicrous reason.

this ticket will not be paid!