Sacramento’s ‘smart’ parking meters are sending drivers the wrong message

Some downtown meters have a programming glitch
Some downtown meters have a programming glitch

Some of Sacramento’s new “smart” meters have not been as smart as advertised, it turns out.

The city’s Parkmobile payment app has been mistakenly sending some drivers a “Parking is Free” message at certain meters after 6 p.m, even though those meters are in zones where payment is required until 8 p.m. or 10 p.m.

Parking technology manager Mike King said the city and the Parkmobile vendor miscommunicated on meter shut-off times for 300 meters, mostly between 16th and 19th streets. The issue will be fixed by Thursday evening, King said.

King said drivers who think they were ticketed unfairly can contest the citation, and should provide evidence that they had tried to use the Parkmobile app. People who discover a problem with a meter can report it by calling 311, King said.

“If anybody was inconvenienced, we apologize for that,” he said.

The city has been citing drivers since Nov. 1 for failure to pay meters after 6 p.m. The new meter shut-off hours are complicated: Downtown meters now run until 10 p.m. Meters in a small swath of midtown run until 8 p.m. Other midtown meters close out at 6 p.m. Meter times are noted on street signs and on each meter’s read-out screen.

The city learned of the Parkmobile problem Monday when the Sacramento Bee’s transportation reporter tested five midtown meters on different streets after 6 p.m., and found that the app mistakenly indicated no payment was needed at any of them.

City officials said the Parkmobile system has been working well overall. It operates for 4,000 of the city’s 4,400 central city meters and at some parking lots.

The city is registering 5,000 Parkmobile transactions per month. “That tells us customers use the system,” King said. “We get few complaints.”

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak