Nfld. & Labrador

Off with their heads: More than a quarter of new parking meters in St. John's damaged by would-be thieves

More than half of the new parking meters installed by the City of St. John's have been damaged in the last two and a half years.

About 290 meters — more than 25 — with each free parking spot losing nearly $10 a day in average revenue

St. John's Coun. Sandy Hickman said there are currently about 290 parking spots in St. John's with inactive meters. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

More than half of the new parking meters installed by the City of St. John's have been damaged in the last two and a half years — often by thieves going after the money inside, according to an access-to-information report obtained by CBC.

Further, the number of meters currently out of service means the city is missing out on $1,800 in revenue during an average day.

Andrew Smith, a downtown St. John's resident who provided the report to CBC, says the problems the city has had with parking meters suggests council should look at other solutions.

"Either we should do away with the meters, or we should really be putting meters in that stay in one piece [that] people can't knock off or break down," he said.

The report notes the city bought 1,219 new parking meters in the fall of 2013, at a cost of $474 apiece, and ran into problems immediately, as it had to cut the poles down because the screens were too high for many people to read.

And since March 2015, the city has had "a consistent problem with persons damaging parking meters for the purpose of obtaining monies collected," says the report, which estimates that about 680 meters have been damaged since that time, of about 1,100 or so in the city. The report, dated Aug. 14, said there were then 180 meters inactive in the downtown core from a combination of vandalism and maintenance issues.

On average, a meter brings in $6.90 a day in revenue, and $3.01 in ticket revenue, for just under $10 a day total. With 180 meters out of service, that's just under $1,800 a day in lost revenue.

It can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to get meters back in service, says the city — with three to four days to remove a meter, drill out its lock and replacing it with a new one, to several weeks to repair mechanical problems with the battery or computer board, for example.

St. John's Coun. Sandy Hickman said the city has seen a surge in vandalism and theft from the meters, and estimates there are currently even more out of service — 290 — than when the report was issued.

"I think enough people at City Hall now realize that we need to look at alternative methods of charging for parking on the side of the streets," he said, pointing to other methods, such as installing kiosks where people would pay for any given parking spot in a section of downtown — much like how parking is paid for at the airport.

"I personally feel that is a good way to go, and I'm hopeful that we'll get something on the go for next year," he said.

He said the lost revenue is a problem for the city's budget, as is the fact that a person can park all day at a broken meter.

"We want turnover," he said. "We want businesses to have turnover for their customers to be able to park for two hours, or less, and go in, out, do a transaction, have a lunch and move on. As opposed to people parking for free, and some of these would of course be people parking all day, taking up valuable space in downtown and other areas of the city."