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