There are 71 pay stations now dotting the sidewalks of Richmond. The city's just ordered 40 more machines. They are powered by solar panels, which charge the batteries inside. Except, as 12 Investigates found out, on cloudy, rainy days - these machines don't always work.
On August 29, we hit the streets of Richmond. It was overcast, and we've just had nearly two straight days of rain. On the 1100 block of Main Street, we watched dozens of people try, and try again to feed the meter.
"The last couple of days, they haven't been working," one motorist told us.
"I'm ready to pay, but, ah... can't. I don't know what to do," said another driver.
There are only two pay stations on this entire block, and neither was working. They would not turn on. Battery zapped. Meaning you can't pay.
"Are you worried about getting a ticket?" asked investigative reporter Rachel DePompa. "Yes! They move pretty quick around here," replied Daquan Kell.
We also found numerous cars with notes on the windshields from fed up drivers. Scribbled on scrap paper were pleading messages like, "parking machine not operating." Someone even left 50 cents on the dashboard.
We took the problem to the city's acting operations manager for parking, Steve Bergin, and he admits the eco-friendly pay stations do have a weakness.
"Cloud cover. You don't get the sun to the panel, so it's not recharging the battery," said Bergin.
He says the meters are so high tech, they are supposed to send notices to the city of any problems.
"They all have cellular technology in them. If the paper's low, it will communicate to us. If the battery's low it will communicate to us," said Bergin.
Though just two weeks ago, a meter on the VCU campus near Belvidere had no paper. It wasn't spitting out the receipts for drivers to put on their dashboard. We had to call the city and we waited for over an hour - no one came to fix it.
Bergin says as the city adds more pay stations, it is increasing the number of technicians. It's their job to fix the problems - replace the paper, change the batteries and empty the money.
"It shouldn't be an issue. As long as we're on top of our game, it shouldn't be an issue. Again, those machines should be communicating with us. If they're not, we need to find that out," said Bergin.
If you have any trouble and the pay station isn't working, we recommend you pull out your cell phone and document that the machine isn't working. Take pictures and video. If you get a ticket, you can ask for an administrative review and never have to step foot in court.
The city plans to eventually do away with all the meters, making pay stations the staple.
This story started as a tip to 12 investigates. If you have something you'd like Rachel to look into, email her at email@example.com.
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