2015-05-27 / Editorials

What’s Up With Muni-Meters?

BY ANTONIO MELONI

I have a confession to make, I started gambling. It was inadvertent and totally unexpected but inevitable, it all began the day the city first installed “Muni-Messes” – I mean Muni-Meters. Really, it’s amazing, you never know when you leave your car, walk half a block to go and pay it whether: a meter will work, accept coins, have paper, reject the coins, eat your credit card, short your time – it’s a continuing entertainment and gamble – I can’t remember how I lived without all this excitement.

Any driver who has ever used a Muni-Meter will recognize themselves and understand my sarcasm. There is probably no new “‘technology” that is more prone to breakdown and absence of service. If 50 percent of police cars, fire call-boxes or garbage sweepers didn’t work, we’d all be rightfully up in arms; yet we all take it day after day because “what can you do?” Calling 311 takes 10 to 20 minutes minimum and you still have to pay, so really… why bother. Talking to traffic agents (ha ha ha, that was funny) is useless. They don’t know what to do themselves; it’s a thankless enough job without aggravating drivers even more because they don’t have a clear answer.

Since Muni-Messes, oh I’m sorry again, Muni-Meters have been installed citywide, over two years already, they have gone to near the top of citizen complaints on 311. Noise and heat complaints are always on top, but DOT-related complaints have risen astronomically and are now in fifth place. I’m willing to bet that besides parking ticket complaints most of the increase is due to malfunctioning Muni-Meters. Having done informal surveys, I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had issues with them. I would also be willing to bet that at any given time over 25 percent for certain and at times 50 percent or more are unusable or broken in some manner. But beyond that, these past brutal winters and the general misengineering in their design and implementation have concurrently given rise to very important safety concerns and issues. This winter it was worse than ever.

Allow me to tell my all too common story. In mid-Christmas season, I decided to stop in to my church, Immaculate Conception, to see the beautiful Nativity and church decorations. I parked, walked six cars to the nearest Muni-Meter, tried to insert quarters, the meter didn’t work – “Machine Out of Order,” it said, cursed at machine – OK happens much too often, but what are you gonna do. Walked to the next block/meter, and this machine didn’t accept quarters. Cursed at nonexistent repair people. OK, crossed the street to the next meter, about a block and a half away from the car. Meter was “Not in Service,” because that side of the street doesn’t start until 8:30 am. Dumb law, I don’t care, I would gladly pay. Cursed at legislators and city in general. Now can’t even see car, but do see revenue agent – I mean traffic agent – driving past me. Thinking I’m going to get a ticket for my troubles, knowing that even if I tell them my all too frequent story about the broken Munis I’ll just get some nonsensical answer and risk another agent giving me a ticket while explaining to the first one. Curse traffic agents in general; as I said, thankless job. Finally find meter that accepts quarters, put in two dollars just to be safe, and…no paper comes out and screen says “transaction finished” – au contraire my mechanized fiend; the aggravation is just growing.

So, to recap; lost time, really aggravated, lost money, businesses lost revenue, risked ticket, almost slipped and fell twice because city doesn’t clean around meters like it should and half an hour later, literally and figuratively, I’m tied to my car. Great technology, City of New York; glad we gave millions to some private agency for this privilege.

As if to further make this point, three days later, on 31st and Ditmars, where angled parking is allowed, I was going to buy some cannolis at La Guli Pastry Shop, instead I got stuck on a pilgrimage, with four other car owners, looking for the one working meter on the block, one very long block. Unbelievably, five Muni-Meters were out of service on that night. It actually became a joke as we all started talking and commiserating with one another about one more non-working meter while walking in the rain. What if it was a mom with kids, or heavy snow or 99-degree weather? When I drive around the city and I see the way that it runs, usually well, I’m amazed at how we do it all the time. New Yorkers and city workers excel at living on the fly, making do with small inconveniences; it’s when these issues become systemic and we can clearly see and understand that the whole system is broken that we wonder how this is allowed…then it’s time to complain with legitimate cause.

As of now the stories above have dealt with minor aggravation, lost time, lost business and general city DOT ineptitude. What really got my goat and made my decision to have hearings on this issue, as the Public Safety Chair of Community Board 1 in Queens, was watching a woman with two toddlers on one of the coldest, iciest days of the year; she bundled them up and walked from meter to meter, slipping on ice, crossing streets, repeatedly trying to pay with no success. Conversely, if she left them in the car to keep them safe and warm she would probably be arrested for child abuse for leaving them alone in the car; sounds insane but you can see it happening, can’t you? Why should that mother or for that matter anyone, be put in that situation. Shouldn’t the city or our citizens, hold the agency or company responsible?

So, on behalf of the businesses that are losing money, the citizens that are inconvenienced, the kids that are endangered, we at CB1 are going to hold a joint Public Safety and Transportation Committee hearing on this matter to put the responsible agency’s feet to the fire so that they will either remedy these situations or go back to the drawing board. No one should have to put up with this.

Give us your first person complaints or stories so we may use them as testimony at this or subsequent hearings. Email to Meloni25@iasny.org.

We will question the agency as to:

 What procedures are in place, or will be put in place, to safeguard consumers

 Should we add more meters, working ones

 Can we have a clear indication when a meter is broken and when a call has been placed, that one is to be fixed

 Have DOT or private agency, clear around snowed-in meters

 Give clear instructions to agents and police as to what reasonable steps can be taken to not penalize drivers and give tickets, and lastly,

 Give us your ideas as to further points or questions that we may ask.

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