New parking meters with credit card payment options are part of the goBerkeley program. Photo: Steer Davies Gleave
The Berkeley City Council has, for the most part, done away with cash-payment minimums at parking meters. Photo: Steer Davies Gleave

In the wake of public frustration and confusion after Berkeley adjusted many of its parking meters to require a minimum cash payment of 30 or 35 cents, depending on the area, the city has rolled back the changes to allow meters city-wide to register any amount from a nickel on up.

According to a city staff report prepared for a September vote by the Berkeley City Council to fix the problem, the city began hearing criticism about the meter minimum earlier this year during its goBerkeley outreach campaign to change metered parking rates and time limits in three of the city’s business districts.

Members of the public said they were confused because meters were failing to register payment. Unbeknownst to some, it was because the 30- or 35-cent threshold had not been met. Putting in change that didn’t register left some wondering if the meters were broken. So they were unsure whether to keep trying, find a new space, or walk away and try their luck.

Speaking at a council meeting about goBerkeley in July, and seemingly unaware of the minimum payment rule, Councilman Laurie Capitelli noted: “I still haven’t figured out, maybe since we’ve really got the wealth of all nations here in terms of parking wisdom: Sometimes I put a quarter into a parking meter and it doesn’t register anything. Could you explain that to me?”

Replied city staffer Willa Ng: “There’s a minimum transaction.”

Capitelli: “Even for cash?”

Ng: “At credit-card enabled meters.”

Capitelli: “I’m just putting a quarter in and it still says ‘zero.’”

Councilwoman Linda Maio: “It’s broken.”

Capitelli: “No, because then if I put another quarter in, it gives it time.”

Ng explained that, at credit-card enabled meters, there was a 12-minute minimum payment required. No meter time is purchased until the minimum fee is reached.

Capitelli: “What if I just want to take my dry cleaning in and come right out?”

Mayor Tom Bates: “Don’t worry.”

Maio to Capitelli: “That’s a good point.”

Joked Bates: “Take a chance…”

Given the degree of confusion among even city officials who are charged with being the most informed about city issues, a policy change of some sort was likely in order. The city also said, in the staff report, that it received numerous complaints from merchants and residents about the minimum payment requirement.

The problem came about as part of a city effort to standardize its meters so that all of them, both single-space meters as well as credit card-enabled stations, would register no less than the 30-cent minimum for 12 minutes.

Council members voted in September to eliminate the minimum cash payment so that each coin type — 5 cents and above — will register on meters. (For credit and debit card transactions, a minimum 12-minute payment will still be required; the city said it hadn’t received feedback citing problems with that issue.)

But there hasn’t been much outreach about the change.

Noted one reader on Berkeleyside last week, when the goBerkeley parking meter program went live: “Make sure to bring at least two coins — despite being $1.50 an hour you can’t pay with a single quarter. You must buy at least 12 minutes for $0.30. This annoyance brought to you by the addition of credit card processing in parking meters….”

Added another commenter, “I have also been annoyed to put a quarter into a meter and realize it won’t buy me even one minute — I have to add a nickel to reach the 30-cent minimum.”

City spokesman Matthai Chakko jumped in quickly to explain that “the city is in the process of reprogramming the meters so that all meters will accept a single nickel.”

As of Oct. 15, he said, “all single space meters citywide accept nickels. As for the multispace meters, they’re already changed in the goBerkeley areas and they will be changed citywide.”

The city said, via the September staff report, that Berkeley could lose as much as $61,580 in payments to its Parking Meter Fund — assuming meter-user cash spending is the same as it was in 2012-13 — if all minimum coin transactions of 30 or 35 cents are reduced to a nickel, “however, it is unlikely there would be that many transaction changes.”

In 2012-13, the city reported more than 223,300 12-minute minimum coin transactions, for a total revenue of $72,700.

Metered parking changes launch Tuesday in Berkeley (10.15.13)
goBerkeley parking rules get final public review (for now) (08.08.13)
2 goBerkeley public meetings on parking coming up (07.31.13)
Details unveiled on proposed metered parking changes (07.03.13)
City sets goBerkeley transportation program in motion (06.27.13)
Berkeley council weighs in on parking pilot program (06.12.13)
Parking changes slated for 3 Berkeley business zones (05.23.13)
goBerkeley answers frequently asked questions (City of Berkeley)
Take the goBerkeley parking survey (goBerkeley)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...