Photo by MWander on Flickr.

The District’s aggressive multi-space parking meter program has replaced thousands of antiquated single-space meters. The new multi-space equipment is a big improvement, but maintenance problems may hamper its usability.

The multi-space meters have been a quick, economical, and customer-friendly way to improve both the city’s parking situation and its streetscape. On average each multi-space meter replaces nearly 8.5 single-space meters. Thousands of ugly, oft-broken single meters have been replaced thanks to these new tools.

Unfortunately, the new meters are not immune to breakdowns of their own.

I have noticed that over a third of the multi-space meters along my usual walking routes need maintenance. One meter was completely malfunctioning. The electronic displays are the biggest problem. Often they fail to fully show some digits. Other times they are too dim to read at all.

These problems make it difficult to purchase the desired meter time even for regular users. Visitors unfamiliar with the machines or who have less than optimal vision will be even more challenged.

When possible I report malfunctioning meters using the 311 online service request center or the SeeClickFix mobile application, which feeds into 311.

When it didn’t appear to me that problems reported online were being resolved I contacted John Lisle, DDOT’s public information officer, to determine the timeline for meter repairs and the response to 311 tickets. He said that single-space meter issues must be resolved by the contractor within 3 days. For multi-space meters, the contractor must resolve reported problems on the next business day.

During the previous 12 months there were 283 service tickets opened on the 18 meters that I had observed. This equates to 1.3 complaints per meter per month.

At the time of my inquiry a few weeks ago there were no open tickets on any of those meters. However, there were several meters with display problems.

Perhaps the contractor does not consider a moderately non-functioning display to warrant replacement. From the perspective of a meter user, I think it definitely does.

Following my inquiry with DDOT several of the displays were replaced. DDOT deserves credit for following through. From what I can tell, only 2 of the meters I regularly observe still have serious display problems. Both are on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue between R Street and 34th Street.

DDOT noted that the meter maintenance contract is up for renewal this coming year. It will be put out to bid in the coming weeks. If the current contractor isn’t maintaining the city’s meters adequately then perhaps they should be replaced. The contract renewal process will offer a good opportunity for the city to consider its options.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 25 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.