By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Despite a nationwide shortage of meter parts, the Montclair Parking Utility has been catching up on fixing hundreds of broken parking meters since November, when it began enforcing parking fees after putting them on hold early in the pandemic.
Recently, residents on social media have noted the annoyance of malfunctioning meters throughout the township. Councilwoman Robin Schlager said she recently parked at two jammed meters and had to use her credit card to park for 15-minute visits.
“Coming out of the pandemic, the number was more than 160 bad meters,” Parking Utility Superintendent Manny Germano said.
The parking utility gradually brought that number down to an average of roughly 60 bad meters per a day, out of the 1,300 parking meters located throughout Montclair, Germano said.
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Some are “dead” meters that aren’t working at all. Others are jammed with gum, coins wrapped in gum, gum wrappers, paper clips, coin slugs, screws, nails or coins that have been doubled up, he said.
The utility is notified of a broken meter through a computer alert.
“Meters communicate with a computer daily at midnight – they do not communicate in real time. Once we clear a coin jam or get a dead meter back up and running, we can set the meter to communicate with the head end again and report in,” Germano said.
Malfunctioning meters have long been a problem in Montclair. Pre-pandemic, the number of malfunctioning meters fluctuated between 60 and 100 daily, Germano said.
Sometimes a jammed meter can be cleared on site. But if the item used to jam the slot is, for example, gum wrapped around a coin, then the meter must be brought to the shop to disassemble it and clear out all of the sensors. Sometimes, the meters must be sent back to the manufacturer and a spare meter, which the utility keeps some on hand, has to be installed in its place.
But more recently, parking utility employees have observed people putting bags over the meters to get the meters to malfunction, Germano said.
“The bags block the solar panels on the meters so the meters die because the batteries have drained and can’t recharge,” he said.
So if a meter is inoperable can you still get a ticket for parking in that spot? Germano says yes.
Township parking provisions state you cannot park at a meter without some sort of payment method.
All metered spaces can receive three forms of payment: coins, credit card and ParkMobile (which you can call, or use the ParkMobile app).
If the meter card or coin slot is jammed, or the screen is blank, pay by ParkMobile, Germano said.
“Otherwise, you need to park in a different space,” Germano said. “The provision [in the township’s parking law] is interpreted to mean that parking at a broken meter is not permitted. Parking at a partially disabled meter, e.g., that only accepts cards or ParkMobile, is permitted as long as the fee is paid.”
Mayor Sean Spiller said at a June 22 Township Council meeting that transitioning to cashless meters could be on the horizon.
“It has been a big discussion with the parking utility team. They would be thrilled to go cashless,” he said.
In addition to paying for parking fees, the ParkMobile app can be set to let a driver know when a session is about to end, so it can be extended up to the time limit for that particular zone.
See video below on how to use the app.