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CITY PARKING METERS: SCAM OR SCANDAL?

A few weeks ago I parked next to a meter downtown and put several quarters into it. But the meter did not reflect any time I could park there. One of the city's employees who checks meters and hands out tickets walked by. I told him the meter was out of order and that I was going to put a note on it.

He said nothing, just nodded. When I returned 15 minutes later, a parking ticket and my note were stuck under my windshield wiper.

Angered, I went directly to the Traffic Violations Bureau. I was told that the meter would be checked and if it was out of order I would not have to pay the fine.

About a week later, I received a letter that the meter had been checked and it was in order so I had to pay a fine. The date when the meter was checked was indicated -- it was approximately four days after the so-called parking violation.

I wrote an angry letter saying to the effect that someone must be lying and it wasn't me. I received no reply. But I did pay the fine.

About a week later, while going downtown to get an airplane ticket, I parked my car on South Elmwood Avenue near Cary Street.

I put money in the meter but it did not show any time allowed. Based on my previous experience, I backed up my car to another meter and put quarters in it. It also did not show any time allowed. Again I backed up my car to another meter and put quarters into it but the meter did not show any time allowed.

Disgusted, I drove to a parking ramp across from City Hall and parked. When I arrived home, by coincidence I received a phone call from a friend who works in City Hall. I told him about my situation with the three parking meters.

My friend instituted a three-way phone call involving the two of us and a gentleman from the Traffic Violation Bureau. Lo and behold, he revealed to us -- perhaps not intentionally -- the scam that is being pulled on many people.

Here's the way it works. He stated that a large percentage of the traffic meters downtown become overloaded with quarters by the time the day is half over. So anyone who slips a quarter into the meter after that point is not going to have any time allowed shown. That means a ticket will be handed out to that person for a parking violation.

If the driver goes to the Parking Violations Bureau, he will be told that the meter will be checked. But, as was explained to me by this gentleman, the bureau is so short-handed that not only are the meters not emptied of quarters quickly enough but there is also a lack of people to check the meters to see if they are out of order when the problem is reported. So the meter is not checked until some days later, when it appears to be in perfect order.

To me, this adds up to the city leaders being aware of the situation and allowing it to continue. Apparently they don't realize that it does discourage people from coming downtown. I am a city person, very much involved in theater and downtown life. But based on my experience with these meters, if and when I have a choice between doing what I have to do downtown or elsewhere, I'm going to stay away from downtown.

Emanuel Fried Buffalo

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