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Upkeep vital for multi-space meters

The District's aggressive multi-space parking meter program has replaced thousands of antiquated single-space meters. The new multi-space equipment is a big improvement, but maintenance problems may hamper its usability.

Photo by MWander on Flickr.

The multi-space meters have been a quick, economical, and customer-friendly way to improve both the city's parking situation and its streetscape. On average each multi-space meter replaces nearly 8.5 single-space meters. Thousands of ugly, oft-broken single meters have been replaced thanks to these new tools.

Unfortunately, the new meters are not immune to breakdowns of their own.

I have noticed that over a third of the multi-space meters along my usual walking routes need maintenance. One meter was completely malfunctioning. The electronic displays are the biggest problem. Often they fail to fully show some digits. Other times they are too dim to read at all.

These problems make it difficult to purchase the desired meter time even for regular users. Visitors unfamiliar with the machines or who have less than optimal vision will be even more challenged.

When possible I report malfunctioning meters using the 311 online service request center or the SeeClickFix mobile application, which feeds into 311.

When it didn't appear to me that problems reported online were being resolved I contacted John Lisle, DDOT's public information officer, to determine the timeline for meter repairs and the response to 311 tickets. He said that single-space meter issues must be resolved by the contractor within 3 days. For multi-space meters, the contractor must resolve reported problems on the next business day.

During the previous 12 months there were 283 service tickets opened on the 18 meters that I had observed. This equates to 1.3 complaints per meter per month.

At the time of my inquiry a few weeks ago there were no open tickets on any of those meters. However, there were several meters with display problems.

Perhaps the contractor does not consider a moderately non-functioning display to warrant replacement. From the perspective of a meter user, I think it definitely does.

Following my inquiry with DDOT several of the displays were replaced. DDOT deserves credit for following through. From what I can tell, only 2 of the meters I regularly observe still have serious display problems. Both are on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue between R Street and 34th Street.

DDOT noted that the meter maintenance contract is up for renewal this coming year. It will be put out to bid in the coming weeks. If the current contractor isn't maintaining the city's meters adequately then perhaps they should be replaced. The contract renewal process will offer a good opportunity for the city to consider its options.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 25 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve. 


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SeeClickFix really does have the potential to revolutionize city services. What a lot of folks interpret as institutional apathy or incompetence, can often be explained as an lack of timely information. City services can't fix things they don't know about.

As far as the contract goes, maybe they could write some better performance targets into the new contract. I've had no end of problems when it comes to trying to use the multi-space meters. The debit card seems to work better than the credit card. But thank god for ParkMobile and the smartphone.

by oboe on Dec 1, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

What!?!? You mean good ole Gabe didn't take into account the required maintenance and upkeep all these new parking payment systems would require when he 'just did it'!?!

Wait till the Pay by Phone System starts breaking down ....

I'm all for new parking technology ... but like the streetcar system, it probably needed more planning before its wholesale (and inconsistent) implementation ...

by Lance on Dec 1, 2011 3:56 pm • linkreport

I'm all for new parking technology ... but like the streetcar system, it probably needed more planning before its wholesale (and inconsistent) implementation ...

Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts Now!

I'm curious, how will more planning obviate the need for maintaining multi-space parking meters? Do we even know what the costs are versus the old meter system--including the cost of sending dudes around to empty them? Is there any non-trivial system that doesn't have some kinks to iron out?

Also, what would the breakdown of the Pay By Phone system look like? Will the stickers with the kiosk identifiers start to peel or fade? Will a virus invade all of our smartphones?


by oboe on Dec 1, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

Methinks the its a bit of intentional slugishness.

The city makes a mint off of parking tickets. It is a reliable and ever valuable source of revenue so if it takes a little longer to fix it and a few more people (many of which won't contest it) get a ticket, mission accomplished.

Kinda reminds me of those infuriating "self resetting" meters all over town that blink "out of service" when you park there and won't take your money, only to rest themselves ~20 minutes later to register "out of time".

Consequently a ticket-eer comes by and gives you a parking ticket.

by freely on Dec 1, 2011 4:14 pm • linkreport

Since the District first implemented the multi-space meters a few years ago, roughly half the units I've attempted to use have been malfunctioning in one way or another.

by Ron on Dec 1, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport

Even though I prefer the new meters. I miss the bike parking the old ones provided.

Lance, I don't blame Gabe Klein for the parking meter issues. I blame Samuel Smallwood. He should have seen this coming.

by David C on Dec 1, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport

Can you report problems with multispace meters by email? I know you could with the old coin operated kind. I found that useful 1)because it was easy and 2)because it gave me something I could print out and use to contest a ticket at broken meter. I successfully contested a ticke that way once.

by Kate W on Dec 1, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

>> Visitors unfamiliar with the machines or who have less than optimal vision will be even more challenged.

If your vision isn't sufficient to read a multispace meter monitor I don't want you behind the wheel anyway...

by Paul on Dec 1, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

Does a broken multispace meter mean free parking like if you parked at an old one?

by Canaan on Dec 1, 2011 8:13 pm • linkreport


You can repotrt them at 311 or 727-1000.

by oboe on Dec 2, 2011 12:20 am • linkreport

Mitch -- It would be extremely unusual that maintenance standards, performance standards, frequency of maintenance, and amount of downtime for equipment isn't covered in the DDOT contract on parking meter kiosks.

It's possible the metrics aren't robust enough given the equipment or working conditions. Other alternatives are that the contractor isn't living up to the contract. Or DDOT isn't monitoring it.

(The bike sharing system that my business sells can be integrated with on-street parking meter management and electric vehicle charging using the same kiosk, among other features, so at some point, we are likely to be bidding on parking meter kiosks too, so I am becoming conversant with industry practices.)

by Richard Layman on Dec 2, 2011 6:22 am • linkreport

Canaan -- I presume that a broken multispace meter means that it is your responsibility to go to another working one to get your chit (not unlike finding an open dock for a bikesharing bike). It doesn't make a block of free parking free.

by Richard Layman on Dec 2, 2011 6:24 am • linkreport

Why not add a button for maintenance like all the CaBi docks have? It would make reporting easier.

by Rob P. III on Dec 2, 2011 9:20 am • linkreport

I'm glad to hear that DC is responding to problems reported on SeeClickFix. Unfortunately, in Maryland, it seems that this is not the case. I identified several safety hazards in Maryland on MDOT-maintained roads which would be easy to fix (such as missing lane striping at key intersections, or turn lane designations that contradict each other). I reported them on SeeClickFix about a year ago, and MDOT has done absolutely nothing.

The municipal and country roads seem to get fixed pretty quickly -- but state roads are ignored.

by jcs on Dec 2, 2011 11:22 am • linkreport

"Does a broken multispace meter mean free parking like if you parked at an old one? "
No... I once had a broken one, and left a little note in my window instead of a receipt, saying it was broken. Still got the ticket, and didn't win when I contested it.

by Ticketed on Dec 2, 2011 1:27 pm • linkreport

Curious why you lost your case. My guess is that they claimed you could have printed a receipt from a different meter or used pay by phone.

It seems like the 'broken meter' argument will hold less and less merit in the future.

by Rob P. III on Dec 2, 2011 1:38 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman

The Solicitation for "Asset Management Services for Parking Meter Assets Citywide" has been posted by Office of Contracting & Procurement with a closing date of 12/28/11. The main document only generally lists "Maintenance, rehabilitation and repair service" as a requirement for the contractor. Performance expectations would likely be clarified in any technical Q&A from the bidders. The full solicitation is at:

I did ask John Lisle questions relating to the performance standards and contractor performance reviews. His response was, "...some of the information you are looking for would most likely need to be FOIA'd such as performance give our legal department a chance to ensure privileged or sensitive information isn't released." I chose to write the article based on the information available in his initial responses without having submitted a FOIA.

by Mitch Wander on Dec 4, 2011 7:53 am • linkreport

I am a forest person (big picture) not a tree person (the details) when it comes to contracting. But in the Arlington contract for bikesharing, which is available online, performance standards for bikesharing are laid bare. Undoubtedly there are probably working agreements beyond this that have changed some of the particulars.

Clearly, DC has a different view on contracts and whether or not they are privileged/subject to FOIA, etc.

I have not read it, but the bus shelter contract is one of the documents posted on the DDOT website.

Anyway, as I said before, I'd be really surprised that performance standards aren't present in the contract, but like you, if I had to wait til I had such official documents before writing, it'd be rare for me to write.

by Richard Layman on Dec 4, 2011 8:33 am • linkreport

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