They towed his car

WATCH DOG

did agent toe the line?

October 16, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- Concerns published in August about the new Easy Park machines prompted numerous letters and e-mails. While this column can't be used for a running back-and-forth over parking disputes (we'd be here forever and never satisfy anyone), at least one letter stood out as worthy of follow-up.

THE BACK STORY -- When a glitch is discovered in a machine, officials can simply reprogram a fix. But it's far more complicated when the problem is human.

Gary J. McMahon of Ellicott City said that back in May he parked on the west side of North Charles Street between Baltimore and Fayette streets at 2:50 p.m. He needed change to feed the Easy Park machine and said he asked a parking control agent to break a dollar bill.

He said the helpful agent promptly made change and McMahon bought a 30-minute ticket and placed it in his windshield. He returned at 3:09 p.m. to find his car being towed. He admits he didn't see the parking restriction sign.

But what McMahon really wants to know is why, according to him, the agent made change and watched him insert the money in the meter without also telling him that in 10 minutes his parked car would be ticketed and towed. After all, isn't the whole point that parking agents make sure lanes are clear for rush-hour traffic, and not tacitly encourage people to park illegally and then lay in wait to write a ticket?

The Easy Park meters belong to the city's Parking Authority; the parking agents are the responsibility of the Department of Transportation. Spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said the agent who issued McMahon's ticket denies that she talked with him or gave him change.

Watchdog can't resolve this one, but Barnes did explain how agents are supposed to act:

"We always inform citizens when they are about to commit a parking violation," she said, adding, "We never give change. ... We purposely do not allow them to carry money. Can you imagine the opportunity to rob them? They already get enough grief as it is."

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Kenneth Strong, chief of the Department of Transportation's safety division, oversees parking control agents, 410-396-6802.

UPDATE -- Back in August, Watchdog reported that the "Easy Park" machines being installed to replaced coin-fed meters accept money even when parking isn't allowed. Peter Little, the executive director of the Parking Authority, said the machines would be reprogrammed so drivers couldn't waste money.

Little said yesterday that the work on the 375 machines has been completed. It would have been done sooner, Little said, but it wasn't as easy as officials first thought. Every machine had to be reprogrammed because of different parking restrictions, even on the same block.

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