High-tech parking meters drive down 'piggybacking'

These meters don't show leftover time
Posted at 10:28 PM, May 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-09 23:28:17-04

The next time you park your car in Milwaukee, you might be paying for something that has already been paid for.

The I-TEAM discovered people are paying for time at parking meters that has already been paid for, as the city's multi-space meter system does not plainly display how much time is left on the meter.

In the past, parking meters showed the amount of time that was paid for.

If one driver paid for more time than needed, the next person to park in that spot would benefit from whatever was left on the meter.

In the parking business, this combination of good will and good luck is called "piggybacking."

Over the last decade, the city replaced traditional parking meters with numbered placards and kiosks.

Drivers park their car and then punch that number into the kiosk, paying for their time with cash or a credit card.

But this system makes it hard for one driver to "piggyback" on the extra spending of another parker.

It also means the city is sometimes getting paid twice for the same time in the same spot.

Alderman Bob Donovan said the city should not be in the business of nickel and diming people who park in Milwaukee.

"Now it's become nothing more than a way for the city to make as much money as they possibly can," Donovan said.

Parking in Milwaukee is run by the Department of Public Works.

A spokesperson for DPW said it had no records of how often the city is paid twice for the same time in the same parking spots.

So the I-TEAM did an unscientific sample of parking patterns to see for ourselves.

We requested from DPW records of every payment made at every parking spot on two blocks for one week.

Over 56 parking spaces and a span of seven days, people paid the city twice for the same parking spot 118 times.

In a city with 3,097 multi-space meters, you can see how these numbers could quickly get out of hand.

Do the math and it adds up to a total of 340,275 potential double payments a year.

A spokesperson for DPW says ending piggybacking was not a reason for moving to the multi-space meter system. A statement Donovan does not buy.

"Irregardless of what the bureaucrats might tell you, I'm telling you it's a way for the city to gain revenue, without a doubt," he said.

T2, the company that makes those multi-space meters admits they help increase revenue for the city.

On its website, T2 says one of the reasons it helps do that is by, "reducing the likelihood of giving... remaining time to another driver."

There is still a way to piggyback that works some of the time.

Before you start a new parking session, DPW suggests attempting to first add time to the spot in question.

It takes time and does not always work, but could prevent paying twice for the same parking spot.

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