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Editorial: Meter muddle

['Telegram file<br />Parking meters line Harbour Drive in downtown St. John’s.']
Parking meters on Harbour Drive in downtown St. John’s. — Telegram file photo

This is not a paean for the good old days — far from it.

It’s just making the point that sometimes, when things aren’t broken, you don’t need to be in a rush to fix them.

The City of St. John’s operates 1,167 parking meters across the city. In 2014, the city replaced the meters with new digital parking meters, energized by solar power and capable of reading credit cards and parking cards, as well as accepting loonies and toonies.

The digital meters in question are the MacKay Guardian Solo parking meter, and replacing older meters cost the city $550 apiece. (The city also hiked its parking fees when it introduced the meters.)

The old parking meters that were replaced by the Guardian Solo were a marvel of armoured clockwork efficiency: clad in metal, the coins fed through the slot, and the turning of the knob wound the mechanism, which would then count down your allotted minutes.

As anyone who frequents the downtown knows, some downtown streets boast more posts with the meters busted off of them than working meters.

They weren’t plastic, so you couldn’t smash them off their posts for a handful of stolen change, and they were simple enough that they ran without complaint for years.

Not so, the new models.

As anyone who frequents the downtown knows, some downtown streets boast more posts with the meters busted off of them than working meters.

As a recent city report pointed out, “A persistent problem of parking meter burglary has plagued the city in recent years. Since March of 2015, over 1,000 meters have been damaged in more than 90 incidents of theft and vandalism. This criminal activity has led to loss of parking and citation revenue as well as meter hardware repair, replacement and labour costs. By the end of 2017, these costs and losses were estimated to be in the order of $1,355,900.”

All of that loss and damage, by the way, netted meter vandals only an estimated $12,000 in coins.

When the city put on lock protectors, the thieves managed to defeat the technology in just three weeks. A new lock protector seems to be working, but, at $40 a meter, that means another $47,000 in costs.

Even more ironic than the constantly busted and failing meters is the fact that, once again, the city will have to replace all of its meters: 2014’s technology is now outdated, and the company that makes the Guardian Solos says it’s not making the meters anymore and all of its stock will run out before the end of this year. Simply replacing them with new models would cost $403,000.

So now council is pondering moving to a cashless system, even though 72 per cent of all meter use is still coins.

And the last time we bought a better mousetrap?

It was obsolete before we even figured out how to keep them working and on their posts.

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