`Easy Park' units difficult in some on-street parking

WATCHDOG

August 28, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- The "Easy Park" machines that are slowly replacing the city's coin-fed parking meters accept money even when parking is not allowed.

THE BACKSTORY -- One recent day when the light rail was stuck on Falls Road in a storm, Kyle Pickett drove to his downtown office. He parked on Baltimore Street near Eutaw Street, paid for two hours at the parking machine and went to work. It was 3:20 p.m.

When the information analyst for the Federal Highway Administration emerged from his Howard Street office after 5 p.m., his car had been towed. There is no parking on that section of Baltimore Street between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

"If it was a no-parking after 4 p.m. in the area, why on earth would the machine give me time beyond the no-parking time?" Pickett wrote to Watchdog in an e-mail. "I would understand if it was a simple coin-op meter. But it was the digital parking machine."

The misstep cost Pickett $256 to free his car from the impound lot. Angry, he returned to the scene of his crime and discovered that he had missed a note on the machine's upper right-hand corner that warned about no parking after 4 p.m.

There also are signs posted with the same warning.

"I admit I didn't see it," Pickett said. "I got out, paid, and put the ticket in my window. I parked right beside the machine. I was somewhat wrong, but I relied on the ticket's time. ... This is not fair and, if this machine is able to accept a credit card, then it should also be able to print tickets that will warn a customer that they cannot park in that area after a specified time or not accept money or grant time that violates the actual rules."

Pickett said he talked to an official with the Baltimore Parking Authority who first told him that reprogramming the city's 375 Easy Park machines would be too cumbersome. Then, Pickett said, the official told him, "They can't change the machines."

Peter Little, the executive director of the Parking Authority, said both responses are untrue.

In fact, because of complaints similar to those of Pickett's, he said: "We are working with the manufacturer of the meters to program them so you cannot buy time beyond what is allowed."

That means each machine has to be recalibrated to reflect the parking regulations of a particular street.

"We are confident we will be able to do that," Little said.

He said the upgrades should be under way in a couple of months.

Meanwhile, read the parking signs before you pay.

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- The Baltimore Parking Authority's meter manager, Candace Lee, 443-573-2800.

UPDATE

After weeks of not responding, Robert Sullivan, a spokesman for CSX Corp., finally got back to Watchdog about a broken fence at the end of South Charles Street, which allows access to railroad tracks and has been deemed a hazard by neighborhood residents.

Watchdog first reported the breech in April, and the hole remains. Sullivan said CSX fixed the fence once, only to have it broken, then repaired it a second time, only to have it broken again. Now, Sullivan said, his company wants to work with the city to come up with a solution. "We want to come up with a way so that once the fence is fixed, it doesn't need to be fixed again in such short order," he said.

Meetings with the city have not taken place, and no timetable or specific plan has been formulated.

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