By Phil Corso
Parking along Bell Boulevard has become a microcosm of what busy business districts throughout the city have been struggling to address because of consistently inconsistent Muni-Meters, community leaders said.
In Bayside particularly, Community Board 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld said she has fielded complaints from residents who park their car only to walk up and down the boulevard to find a meter that works. And even if they do work, there are times when machines run out of receipt paper and leave drivers stranded without a ticket after already paying for one, she said.
It is an issue that Seinfeld said comes up at her own board meetings and was also discussed at a service cabinet meeting involving community boards throughout the borough.
“All we can tell anyone is to call 311 and give them the number of the broken Muni-Meter,” Seinfeld said. “They are mechanical and sometimes they break.”
The city Department of Transportation said 99 percent of the city’s meters are operational at any given time and repair crews respond to broken machines based on complaints filed with 311.
Lyle Sclair, executive director of the Bayside Village Business Improvement District, said he, too, has heard countless Muni-Meter tales from shoppers trying to park along the busy boulevard. In some instances, he said he heard of machines not accepting quarters because they were already full.
Not far from Bayside, a commercial strip known as Whitestone Village has also been reported to have temperamental meters. A TimesLedger Newspapers investigation earlier this year found just under half of the area’s Muni-Meters were not accepting coins on a given day with several others completely out of commission.
But the problem stems far beyond Queens, which is why the City Council gave the green light to a bill last month reforming the way Muni-Meters accept payments. Under the legislation, the DOT was required to reprogram machines to turn off and not accept payments during times when drivers do not need to pay for parking, not accept payments when out of receipt paper and only resume accepting payments one hour before meter rules go into effect.
Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) notched another small victory against the manic meters last year when he passed a law allowing drivers to cancel parking tickets received within five minutes of the time they were waiting to feed the meter.
But whether it is a broken meter or a mad dash to pay before being slapped with a parking violation, the machines have become a cog in the commerce machine.
“When drivers are unfairly ticketed for parking on the street, small businesses suffer, too,” said Queens Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Friedman. “The shoppers effectively blame the merchant — they don’t come back.”
Melinda Katz, a former City Council member and current candidate for Borough President, said she has also seen firsthand how the Muni-Meters can turn a simple trip to the store into a family field trip.
“Every time the meter is broken, you have to haul both your kids out of the car, go down the block, get to another one and then come back. It’s terrible,” Katz said. “They are the type of problems that make you say to yourself, ‘This is why people don’t trust government.’ It’s just one of those every single day things.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.