July 2017

Behind the Scene

by Randy Limbird
Editor & Publisher, El Paso Scene


The other day I had a short errand at the downtown El Paso Public Library, and found a convenient parking space on Missouri at Oregon.
I put in a quarter to get 15 minutes of parking. After checking the supply of El Paso Scenes at the library, I returned to grab a bundle of papers. Glancing at the meter, I noted I still had 11 minutes remaining. After making the same trip to the two locations within the library, I came back to my truck to find a parking enforcement officer writing a ticket. The meter mysteriously showed zero minutes. By all logic, the meter should have had 6 or 7 minutes left.
The officer was sympathetic, but since he had begun writing the ticket, he was required to finish it. But he at least explained a bit of the mystery and invited me to contest my ticket in court.
The meter was a so-called “smart meter,” equipped with sensor that can detect when a vehicle pulls away from the space. To make sure the city gets every cent of possible revenue, the meter then resets to zero.
Gone are the days when you not only hunted for a parking space, but also looked for a meter with remaining minutes. These sensor-equipped meters ensure that no one can take advantage of someone else’s unused minutes.
But they’re not perfect, the parking enforcement officer told me. A passing truck or some other nearby moving object occasionally can fool the meter’s sensor into thinking the space has been vacated. The meter resets to zero.
By the way, these meters also take payment by credit card or the “Park El Paso” phone app. The credit card minimum is $1. The phone app charges a 35¢ convenience fee. So neither is a great alternative if you only need a few minutes.
I did a little research on the Internet and found that “accidental resets” are a known problem, but cities aren’t overly concerned. Most people won’t contest a parking ticket. The ticket I got carried a fine of $25. That’s hardly worth scheduling a hearing in municipal court — unless you’re a newspaper editor who needs something to write about for his monthly column.
Turns out it’s pretty easy to schedule a hearing. Just call the number on the ticket and they’ll make an appointment. I walked into the Municipal Courts building at 810 E. Overland exactly at the scheduled time and within 10 minutes was summoned by the administrative hearing. After a brief explanation of the process and swearing me in, the hearing officer politely invited me to explain why I was contesting the ticket.
I reviewed the timetable I mentioned above regarding the alleged parking violation. I also mentioned the time on the ticket was listed as 3:24 p.m. — and I had left a meeting a half-mile away at 3:10 before coming to the library. So obviously I did not get my 15 minutes’ worth from my quarter.
The hearing officer said he would request a data printout for that particular meter and if it backed up my story, he would dismiss the ticket. At least that’s one advantage of smart meter — it records everything.
From the time I left my truck and returned, the whole hearing process took less than 30 minutes. At least I caught a break when I parked near the courthouse. That meter didn’t have a “reset” sensor and so it gave me 42 free minutes courtesy of the previous user.
I haven’t heard yet from the court, but I had a fair hearing and at least I got a column out of it!

(EDITOR'S NOTE -- AFTER PUBLICATION -- RECEIVED NOTICE THAT METER HAD BEEN DETERMINED TO HAVE MALFUNCTIONED -- TICKET DISMISSED!

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