Parking Meter Rant

Let’s see about this parking meter deal that’s going on in Minneapolis. The meter guys are in the third year of a four-year plan to replace 6500 mechanical meters with electronic ones. This is a program that typifies City Management By The Unknowing. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the meter salesman gave the Council his pitch. I can just hear his raveup about the “newest” and “greatest” and “trouble-free” and “increased revenues.” But, dig it, these new meters run on a nine-volt battery. That’s right: a bunny battery, just like your average fuzz pedal or garage door opener uses. Have you ever left a battery driven device in your car for the night, like a forty-below night? Guess what? It doesn’t work!! Batteries don’t like the cold. The voltage drops to -0-.

The man at the meter shop told me they expect to replace the batteries every six months. They buy them in 1000 lots for $.80 apiece. The arithmetic is 6500 x .80 x 2 = $10,400/year. Also, of course, you have to pay some freezing schlep to change them. The meter monitors carry a voltmeter that tells them when the battery is putting out less than 7.2v, at which point the meter becomes nonfunctional (although they’ve been demonstrated to work at as low as 6.8v). Being a worthless musician, I know something about batteries because I use a lot of battery-powered gear. I can almost guarantee they aren’t going to get six months out of these meter batteries. But, even if they do they’ve still got to recycle 13,000 batteries a year, or, more likely, put them in some landfill.

The meter guy says the difference in revenue is outstanding because the electronic meters are more vandal-proof than the old mechanical ones. You can’t popsicle stick them or use slugs in them. My buddy got popped for slapping a meter and did forty hours for probable cause before they sent him home uncharged. He was told jacking a meter is a felony charge in Minneapolis. The meter guy told me they practically have to tape doughnuts to the meters to get the cops to enforce the jacking law because it’s such a petty deal financially. But, wait a second, let’s do the arithmetic: if all 6500 meters were fully used for an average ten-hour period at $.50/hour the daily yield would be $32,500. If you knock off sixty-two days for Sundays and holidays, the annual take from meters is $9,847,500. Makes the battery charge look like peanuts, doesn’t it?

This is the real point, isn’t it? The hidden taxation of parking meters. Ten- million a year ain’t peanuts but apparently it doesn’t buy smooth roads and good schools because we’re still being asked to pay for them with increased property taxes and special assessments.

While I was on Grand Jury duty last summer, I witnessed a certain obese Councilwoman, who shall remain nameless, park in front of the courthouse and waddle up the steps to her pretend job. Further investigation revealed that the whole unmetered block in front of the courthouse is reserved for Councilpeople. When we talk about felonies, it should be one for them to park there. They should park somewhere around Portland and 36th and walk to the courthouse so they can see the havoc they’ve wreaked on the city they’re supposed to be administering. Included on the walk, at least in the winter time, would be a good look at the hundreds of parking meters that aren’t working because the deepfreeze has knocked out the batteries. For mental stimulation, the walking Councilpersons could calculate the amount of kickback they got from the meter manufacturers vs. the lost meter revenue that got added to their constituents’ property taxes.