Time Is Not Running Out for San Jose’s Defective Smart Parking Meters

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
(photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

Back in July 2014, after San Jose installed 1,200 new smart parking meters downtown, San Jose Inside asked in a headline, “Anybody Else Get a Parking Ticket They Didn’t Deserve?”

Turns out the answer is an emphatic “yes.” But it wasn’t until a bunch of lawyer-types hanging out at the Santa Clara Superior Court got bogus $40 parking tickets for “expired meters” that a red flag was publicly raised about the intelligence of the smart technology.  

Scott Herhold at the San Jose Mercury News wrote that the city fessed up when he asked about bogus-ticket stories and was told there was a known defect in the smart meters. They rely on sensors embedded in the ground, which can be activated inadvertently by the passing of a heavy vehicle, prematurely resetting the meter to “expired.”

The courthouse is near the construction site of another court building, and heavy trucks drive around all the time.

The city copped to a dozen screwed-up meters—ones near the courthouse—and around 90 bogus tickets, which had been contested and cleared. The dozen meters have been disabled while city officials talk to the vendor about a fix. Otherwise, the city is responding on a case-by-case basis as people protest their tickets.

Laura Wells, deputy director for San Jose's Department of Transportation, told NBC Bay Area, “It’s not every single time that the vehicle is there that it (the meter) resets. It’s very sporadic.”

This is not a boat that San Jose wants rocked. Budget-stressed cities have turned parking meters into cash cows. The city makes $10 million a year from parking tickets, and the new smart meters come with the capacity to take credit cards as well as coins. The new machines were accompanied by a new, doubled hourly rate of $2.

Last year, when San Jose Inside reporter Josh Koehn inquired at City Hall about the ticket he “didn’t deserve,” he had a series of questions for City Communications Director David Vossbrink:

“How could a relatively law-abiding citizen like myself get a ticket after doing the right thing? Could other people have been falsely accused of exceeding their allotted time? When did San Jose all of a sudden start charging San Francisco parking rates? And why do meter maids file their teeth down to sharp points?”

He may have gotten a straight answer on the meter maid teeth, but maybe not so much on the meters. No mention was made of a systemic problem. Vossbrink said:

“We have not had any spike in complaints, citations, or malfunctions in our meter since we have deployed them,” Vossbrink said. “The good news is that you drew the short straw, rather than a whole bunch of people. The bad news is that it was you and not someone else.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Downtown San Jose Parking Meters' Flaw: They Flip to "Expired" When Trucks Pass (by Scott Herhold, San Jose Mercury News)

San Jose Parking Meters Issue Faulty Fines to Drivers (by Michelle Roberts and Alyssa Goard, NBC Bay Area)

Anybody Else Get a Parking Ticket They Didn’t Deserve? (by Josh Koehn, San Jose Inside)

On-Street Smart Meter Report (San Jose Department of Transportation)

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