Hundreds of Madison parking tickets flawed - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Hundreds of Madison parking tickets flawed

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Kathy Kuhn of Wauwatosa used a credit card and paid for an hour of time at a downtown, Madison parking space, controlled by a multi-space meter.

Three minutes after making her payment, a parking enforcement officer slapped her with a parking citation.

Kuhn told 27 News she nearly just grabbed the ticket, and filed it away for later payment. Instead, she closely inspected it, and did the math.

"By the time I got back to my office in Milwaukee, I was hopping mad," Kuhn said. "I'm like, I have to actually fight this."

27 News learned Kuhn is not alone.

During a period between the Fourth of July and Christmas 2012, city data shows 195 parking citations were deemed inaccurate as a result of technology problems with multi-space meters.

Between those dates, records show 8,769 citations were issued.

Bottom line: one in every forty-five tickets was flawed.

And city officials concede these numbers only reflect the parking customers who realized their tickets were flawed and requested dismissal of citations through the Madison police department.

"The City recognizes that there may be a slightly higher error rate because some customers may have paid a citation that was issued in error without requesting a review," said city parking operations manager Tom Woznick.

Checking on whether a multi-space meter stall is rented by a customer involves parking enforcement officers using hand-held devices with displays of parking space payment activity. The devices interface with multi-space meter software.

"There is some inherent potential for delay in any wireless technology," Woznick said.

But Woznick conceded the problems go beyond a lag time between the payment being recorded, and the record being transmitted to the officer's equipment.

Woznick said weather, heavy downtown traffic, even a large truck blocking a signal between the stationary meter equipment and the officer, are examples of other obstacles to the technology working correctly.

"We know the impact that this has," Woznick told 27 News. "The customer is not happy with it. None of us would be happy with it."

City officials try to put the problem of flawed parking tickets in context. Officials say since the first multi-space meter was installed as part of a pilot project in September 2010, there have been 1.3 million transactions. They say the vast majority of these credit card swipes and coin drops (bills cannot be processed through the multi-space meters) are accurately recorded.

Even though there is an identified error rate and many, dismissed parking citations, officials are pushing ahead with an expansion of the use of the multi-space meter kiosks. They say with the deployment of a handful of new, multi-space meters, more than seven hundred parking spaces and approximately fifty percent of all downtown meters will be multi-space.

Kuhn told 27 News a priority should be addressing the flawed technology. "They need to fix whatever's wrong with it." 

Woznick said he's encouraged police officials to recommend to enforcement officers waiting at least five minutes after determining a parking stall is unpaid before issuing a citation. Veteran parking enforcement officer Kip Rosenthal told 27 News he follows that protocol, but there's no indication such an approach to citation-writing is the subject of any directive to all enforcement officers.

Woznick told 27 News the contract for the multi-space meter technology is up for renewal with current vendor Metric Parking. But Woznick said similar technology from other vendors in use in cities such as Milwaukee and Minneapolis also has an error rate.

City officials are considering distributing tokens for free parking to customers who have received flawed parking citations and invested the time to appeal for their dismissals.

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