The Faulty Parking Meter
Wish Me Justice in Traffic Court
It is almost six o’clock on a Wednesday evening. I have picked up my friend Lorri and headed downtown to attend a meeting for writers in the New Haven Free Public Library. The City of New Haven provides the library and its services free to the public—but no parking is provided near the library, which is located near Yale University, its classrooms and housing. Parking is at a premium on the streets and in the lots.
We check the Yale lot, which opens to public after 4:30p, but it is full. I drive around a four block area and find a space heading west on Grove Street, a bit of a walk from the library but we should make it on time. Lorri checks her watch. It is 5:52p when she starts feeding the meter. She remarks upon the time because the clock in my car is fast. She says, “I’m glad yours is wrong. We still have time to get there before they start.”
Lorri feeds three dimes and a quarter into the meter. I push five more quarters in, watching to ensure we have over an hour and ten minutes. She says, “Good. That will get us past seven o’clock.” After seven we can park here free. I check the sign to be sure.
When we come out from the meeting, however, there is a ticket on my windshield. The ticket was issued at 6:24pm with the explanation, “Meter Expire, No Voucher.”
How the meter could have expired just 32 minutes after we put in $1.80, enough for more than an hour, is the central mystery of this story. But when I protested the ticket on line, I received a decision saying that I owe the $20 ticket because my car was illegally parked when the ticket was issued. This response was maybe automatic. The reviewer trusted the meter and the meter cop more than me and my friend Lorri, who wrote a supporting eye-witness letter.
Petty? (So what? Why the big deal? It’s only $20.)
But if citizens don’t fight “the system” on the little things, we don’t stand much chance on the big ones that involve larger sums of money or greater charges of wrong-doing. My record is perfect. I rarely get a ticket and when I do I pay it promptly. For me, this is a matter of integrity. I am not only protesting a ticket; I’m protesting a system in which a meter, no matter how new and trusted, is believed above the word of a law-abiding citizen.
I have asked for a hearing in traffic court. And I thought it would be fun to invite your response. What would you do in my shoes? Would it be worth the trip to City Hall to appear in traffic court? Would you feel the need to protect your image as a good citizen who abides by the city ordinances? Will I convince the judge that the meter malfunctioned? Have you had experiences like this? Or other experiences in which technology was trusted and a human being not believed?
To me this is a dangerous precedent. Have we become so automated and impersonal that an honest citizen cannot defend herself from a parking meter?