Parking Meters: Are we being ripped off?

Ever put a quarter in the meter and check your watch, just to come back a half an hour later tometer1 find a ticket tucked neatly under a windshield wiper?

Maybe your watch was running slow? Or perhaps the meter running fast?

Eleven-year-old Ellie Lammer of Berkeley, California, was sure Berkeley’s meters were wrong in her town after her mother inserted an hour’s worth of quarters only to come back a half hour later to a ticket.

Ellie decided to check them out. She found the four minutes her nickel was supposed to pay for actually paid for only two and a half.

She was mad.

Ellie decided to conduct a random sampling of meters for her sixth grade science project. And the results were startling — though most meters were giving the customer extra time, 28-percent were actually short-timing the parker.

Her findings ended up in a local newspaper and her school project forced local officials to change the meters.

A reporter in Seattle, Washington, picked up on Ellie’s story and conducted his own investigation. He found 30-percent of his city’s meters cheating.

Then a group of sixth-graders in Somerville, New Jersey, decided to check their town’s meters — 38-percent came up short.

When read of these stories, we decided to do a little investigating of our own.

For years, it’s been rumored that Cape May meters cheat. Many inserted an extra quarter just to ensure they wouldn’t get a ticket. Of course, these were the old mechanical meters — time kind of wound up on a spring. The meters wear out after time.

But what about the new digital meters? Cape May recently installed these high-tech time keepers throughout the city after raising parking fees from .50¢ to .75¢ an hour and increasing parking fines from $18 to $20.

The public hasn’t taken too well to the increase. Complaints at City Hall led to newspaper headlines as far away as Philadelphia — town’s too greedy, all a big rip off, they chastised.

So just how accurate are the meters? And are we being ripped off in more ways than one? decided to find out. It wasn’t an easy task.

We chose ten locations throughout town and timed five meters at each place. That’s fifty meters. We checked the Washington Street Mall, of course. And Beach Avenue. We timed meters in the historic district and directly across from City Hall.

Our results from all meters were unanimous. Cape May meter-feeders get what they pay for. Not only are the new meters giving the allotted time, more than 25-percent gave an extra minute.

The following is a brief breakdown of meters. Five meters were timed for three twenty-minute periods at each location.

It’s fair to say that Cape May is fair. At least for now. The meters we checked are all brand-new and perhaps even direct from the factory. Once winter rolls around, the meters all come down, oiled and repaired.

Who knows what will happen next season?

We will. Cape plans to randomly spot check Cape May’s parking meters annually. We’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime — got change for a dollar?

Jen Heinold’s Investigation

“As a life-long local of Cape May, I have become accustomed to the ever-present parking issues of this town.  In Cape May, quarters are worth their weight in gold.  As a child, their value equaled a game of skee ball which in turn yielded enough prize tickets to redeem a friendship bracelet or pocket-size water gun.  But as an adult, and someone who works by the beach in Cape May, I find myself hoarding quarters so that I can feed the parking meters throughout town.
When given the assignment to go out on the streets of my hometown and complete an investigative report on the accuracy of parking meters, I was excited.  I’ve watched my fair share of 20/20 investigative reports and as an aspiring journalist, with stars in her eyes and a bit of curiosity, I eagerly took to the streets.
Armed with nothing more than a notepad, a roll of quarters and the Cape May staple, a cup of WaWa coffee, I was ready to go. I had a simple strategy in my investigation: beat the crowds.  In order to do just that, I woke up bright and early and made sure that I was on the streets by 8 a.m.  Since much of my research was done between the hours of 8 and 10 a.m. – before meters are in use – I did attract some attention.  Few people actually talked to me but I did overhear many whispers of, “Should we tell her?” and “Does she know?”  Of course, there were those, too, who doubted themselves, asking, “When do the meters start?”
Throughout the investigation I was stopped by two men, both of whom assumed that I was a meter maid or rent-a-cop (the local’s affectionate term for a summer policeman) in the process of giving them a $20 parking ticket. When I assured them that I was not, their sighs of relief could be heard throughout town.
In the end, I was proud when my research found that most of the meters in Cape May are fair and accurate.  Even though this investigation may not give me the chance to sit in the anchor chair next to Diane Sawyer, I did have fun. And in true Cape May style, I was able to work on my summer tan as well.”

Here are some results:

Lyle Lane

Meter No. 40 Time In: 1:08:20 Expired: 1:29:00

Carpenter’s Lane

Meter No. 54 Time In: 12:32:00 Expired: 12:52:00meter2

Beach Drive Boardwalk

Meter No. B96 Time In: 9:30:40 Expired: 9:51:00

Beach Drive between Madison & Philadelphia

Meter No. N134 Time In: 9:10:40 Expired: 9:31:00

Washington Street across from City Hall

Meter No. 12 Time In: 8:54:00 Expired: 9:14:10

Broadway & Mount Vernon

Meter No. 12 Time In: 2:20:08 Expired: 2:41: 34

Congress Place

Meter No. 18 Time In: 3:08:12 Expired: 3:28:46

Parking Lot behind Collier’s Liquor Store

Meter No. 14: Time In: 3:36:17 Expired: 3:57:02

On the Street with Jennifer Brownstone Kopp

“July is a hard month to find a parking space in Cape May, let alone 25 of them in an afternoon. I had my faithful side kick with me — my soon-to-be eleven year-old daughter. It was terribly hot so we decided to drive the route in comfortable air-conditioning. Did I mention I was driving a Ford F-150 truck big enough to sleep eight comfortably? So huge I have trouble parking it at the supermarket’s lot? So enormous that I’ve ended up sitting — quite embarrassingly — on top of other cars bumpers? So gargantuan that I nearly wiped out all of Parking Terminal C at the Philadelphia Airport in one fell go-around?

You get the picture.

Driving forced me to find that empty space in the areas we’d designated, one with an expired meter, and one I could ease the truck into. It was no day at the beach, believe me.

Fortunately, I had the help of my daughter. I’d pull up as close as possible close to an empty space, and she’d hop out to check the meter. If it was expired, I was then faced with a decision — could I maneuver the truck into the spot without causing serious bodily damage?

My daughter had a merry time of it. We played “hangman” in the truck as we waited for the meter’s time to run out. She learned that Brussels is in Belgium, not England, after completely stumping me in a game. And I learned how to park. Well, at least a little better.”