Battery Flaws Blamed for Santa Fe, N.M.’s Parking Ticket Woes

Faulty solar-powered batteries in 280 parking meters are believed to be behind the failures and resulting tickets.

by Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican / March 14, 2018

(TNS) — In the latest snafu to snare the Santa Fe Parking Division, dozens of parking tickets issued over several months have been deemed invalid and tossed out after the city realized “battery flaws” had caused some 280 meters to malfunction.

“Nobody is going to have to pay a ticket that was issued on a broken meter if it wasn’t their fault,” city spokesman Matt Ross said Tuesday.

Ross said the city already has canceled 78 parking tickets.

“If somebody reports that they got a ticket [on an inoperable meter], we can look at the ticket number, the time that it was issued and we can go back into our monitoring system and check,” Ross said. “If it was issued on a broken meter or a meter that wasn’t working at that time … obviously, we’re going to make it right.”

Ross said the problem points to solar-charged batteries that power the parking meters, not the meters themselves.

“Over the last several months, the calls have been kind of growing and as they grew — this was calls and feedback from the public — staff was evaluating whether or not the issues were with the charging mechanism or if it was the battery itself that was at fault,” he said. “Eventually, they got enough calls that they realized there was a larger problem at hand.”

Ross said parking staff conducted a “systematic check” of the meters and found 280 had battery flaws, most of which were located in the downtown area. The city operates an estimated 1,300 on-street parking meters, and the vast majority are downtown.

“As customers called in to alert us to the issue, we acted to cancel any tickets that were issued while a meter was broken and order replacements from the manufacturer,” he said. “All 280 faulty batteries have been replaced at no cost to the taxpayer … since it was a manufacturer error that caused the problem.”

It’s unclear why parking enforcement officers issued tickets to motorists parked on meters with faulty batteries.

“It could’ve been a range of different things,” Ross said. “It could’ve been that [the motorists] put money in and then walked away and then the meter shut off after that happened. That’s probably the most likely scenario.”

Parking Director Noel Correia, who is out of the office this week, did not return messages seeking comment.

Most of the meters are just over a year old. The city upgraded more than 1,100 coin-operated parking meters to meters that also accept credit and debit cards in late 2016. At that time, only about 200 parking meters accepted various forms of payment.

The faulty batteries are the latest problem for the Parking Division, which has been a regular source of public criticism that started with the city’s decision to raise parking rates in July 2016 from $1 an hour to $2 an hour for the first two hours.

The rate increases, which were proposed as the city grappled with a $15 million budget deficit, angered residents, visitors and downtown merchants — some of whom berated former Mayor Javier Gonzales during a heated meeting at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

©2018 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.