O'Hara resident Melissa Jones said she just wasn't careful enough when punching her license plate number into a new parking meter station Oct. 16 in Oakland.
She entered the number incorrectly, received a $30 ticket for an expired meter and now plans to ask the Pittsburgh Parking Court to throw out her ticket because of her unfamiliarity with the city parking authority's new pay-by-plate meter technology.
Ms. Jones' experience is a cautionary tale for Pittsburgh drivers.
The 560 new metering devices, which the authority touts as more convenient for motorists, track payments by license plate number. Data from the meter stations are transmitted to parking enforcement officers' handheld ticketing devices.
When officers walk up to a car in an on-street parking space, they enter the plate number into the handheld device. If the device can't associate that plate with a payment, a ticket goes on the parker's windshield.
The new multispace pay stations debuted in July on the North Shore, and they've since been installed in Oakland, Shadyside and the South Side. Installation of the machines Downtown is coming soon.
In all, 500 machines, which enable users to pay by coin or credit card, will replace about 3,000 single-space meters. Sixty new pay stations will replace an older multispace machine -- a version that did not use pay-by-plate technology -- in Market Square, Downtown; Schenley Plaza in Oakland; and various neighborhood lots.
Though he had no statistics, parking authority executive director David Onorato said he doubted that many motorists are getting expired meter tickets because they transposed numbers at the metering stations. But when it happens, Mr. Onorato said, "they have the option of paying the ticket or scheduling a hearing."
Though it funds the court, the authority cannot tell the senior district judges who preside there how to handle cases. Mr. Onorato said the authority advised the court about the new pay-by-plate technology and believes that judges often are dismissing tickets or reducing fines when motorists plead data-entry mistakes.
"I think they understand there's a learning curve here and an education process," Mr. Onorato said.
Tim Berg, the court's operations director, confirmed that judges "have been very lenient."
Mr. Berg, who manages the court as an employee of Duncan Solutions Inc., an authority vendor, said judges also have been giving motorists key-ring cards with space for writing their license plate numbers. The authority purchased the novelty item as part of a campaign to educate motorists about the new pay stations.
Still, formally contesting a ticket can be "a pain," as Ms. Jones put it, and parking officials in other jurisdictions make things a little easier for customers.
In Flint, Mich., where the Downtown Development Authority installed 35 pay-by-plate pay stations last spring, perhaps one motorist a week gets an expired meter ticket after entering plate numbers incorrectly. If the motorist complains, the ticket is voided, often before the case gets to court, Chris Everson, authority general manager, said.
Casey Jones, chairman of the International Parking Institute and director of transportation and parking for Boise State University, said motorists should have a "lengthy" opportunity to adapt to new technology. He said the definition of lengthy, however, will vary from community to community based on demographics and other factors.
"It would make no sense to enter into a punitive environment immediately upon launch, because you want your customers and your guests and your patrons to use the new equipment," he said.
Boise State uses a pay-by-space system, which requires drivers to enter parking space numbers into a pay station. When motorists purchase time but enter the space number incorrectly, they get a ticket. If motorists complain, the university takes a "no harm, no foul" approach and voids the ticket administratively, Mr. Jones said.
Pittsburgh's pay station does not generate receipts automatically, but motorists can push a button to generate one. Mr. Onorato said motorists may use a receipt as evidence at a hearing. If they don't have a receipt, he said, officials can look up transaction data at the hearing.
Motorists can get frustrated long before they have a chance to seek relief from a judge.
Anthony Ticknor of Hilliard, Ohio, got a ticket Oct. 20 in Oakland even though he had paid the machine. He said he called the authority and the Pittsburgh Parking Help Desk -- operated by the meter station vendor, Cale America USA -- and was told he received the expired meter ticket because he transposed two numbers at the pay station.
Officials refused to void the ticket even though they acknowledged he had paid for parking and made a good-faith effort to use the pay station correctly, Mr. Ticknor said. "Though the system has evidence proving my innocence, they charge me as guilty."
In Mr. Ticknor's case, persistence paid off. On one call to the authority, he said, an employee said he hadn't transposed numbers after all -- hadn't made any error, in fact -- and voided the ticket.
Joe Smydo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548. First Published November 5, 2012 5:00 AM