Chicago's new pay and display parking meters have a new problem: they don’t all tell the same time.
Since the city privatized public parking in February, motorists have vented their anger at increased fees, machine malfunctions, and now meters where the timing may be off from a few seconds to more than a minute.
Despite the city’s assurances that they are synched, they are not.
According to the city, the time is set and synced every day, matching the atomic clock, but we checked meter after meter after meter all over Chicago, and no two meters we checked had the exact same time.
"I have no idea why a $9,000 parking meter shouldn’t be on the same network and updating constantly to make sure it is accurate," said The Parking Ticket Geek, who runs a widely read website devoted to parking issues.
At our request, The Parking Ticket Geek also began checking meters.
He found the meter to meter discrepancy, and also a mismatch from the time that is on most cell phones.
"There seems to be a 60 second to a 120 second delay from what is assumed to be real time versus what’s on the box,” according to The Geek.
Last February the Chicago City Council approved the Mayor’s plan to privatize public parking.
Since then, LAZ Parking has been installing the new pay and display meters at a reported cost of $40 to 50-million dollars. The new boxes reportedly retail at $9,000 per unit.
We watched workers install two new kiosks at Richmond and Devon.
Minutes later, they were seconds off. And seconds add up to minutes.
"They cheated me out of 2 minutes,” real estate agent Doug Boadway exclaimed. "Hey, that’s not fair. Wow."
The difference, according to a recent Time magazine article, could be that different servers often give different times.
Even cell phone times are not necessarily synced.
"Though the likelihood that a pay box clock might notably become 'out of synch' with the server clock is low, the clocks are synchronized nightly in an effort to mitigate this risk," said Avis Lavell, spokeswoman for Chicago Parking Meters LLC.
Still, a survey of pay and display stations along Lincoln, Fullerton and Armitage avenues had times that did not match, even though they are on the same city server.
Our tests were done using the world clock. Boxes that were feet apart had time discrepancies, expiring at different times.
"Minor time fluctuations are to be expected," according to city Revenue Department spokesman Ed Walsh.
Seconds add up to minutes and minutes add up to tickets .
"Time is money," Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who was one of just five alderman to oppose the mayor’s privatization plan.
Which brings us to this question: LAZ Parking has employed an army of ticket writers, using a hand held device to determine if a ticket is warranted.
Is it possible that the person giving the ticket is on a third clock?
"Yes," said the Geek, "They are allegedly synced up every day from a main computer."
"There is technology out there that is supposed to sync all of that up to the exact time," said Waguespack.
The city says it is up to the discretion of ticket writers whether or not to issue a ticket for a violation that just occurred.
Added The Parking Ticket GeeK: "You got to know that people are getting tickets because of that one to two minute gap."
And what do motorists like Doug Broadway think about that?
"That stinks," he said.
Full comments from the City of Chicago regarding this story:
Pay boxes offer a receipt that displays an expiration time. This is a significant benefit over single bay meters. Enforcement personnel know when the time has expired and can factor that into their decision whether or not to issue a citation. When a single space meter is expired, however, enforcement staff does not know if the meter has been expired for 5 seconds, 5 minutes, or 5 hours.
Motorists may contest a parking meter ticket if a meter runs fast or does not register time properly. This has been a defense for nearly two decades. Should a motorist receive a parking meter violation in error, he or she should contest the violation following the procedure on the ticket. The meter should also be reported to the toll free number on the pay box within 24 hours. Hearing officers have access to reports of malfunctioning meters and will consider this information when rendering a decision.
Minor time fluctuations are to be expected. According to a study by James Madison University, the clocks maintained by 25% of web servers are off ten seconds or more. We have tested the accuracy of cell phones and world clock applications ourselves and found some significant deviations.
Spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Revenue
CPM and LAZ Parking strongly refute the basis of this story. These payboxes synched to the atomic clock each night to assure timekeeping accuracy. Additionally, the boxes round up to the next minute for all purchases, essentially, giving consumers extra time for each transaction. It is both erroneous and unfair to suggest that consumers are being given anything less than the time to which they are entitled.
Spokesperson for Chicago Parking Meters LLC