From Parking Tickets to Sink Holes

02/13/2007 11:40 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

My sixteen-year-old daughter has had her license for all of two days. She called me distraught today to tell me that she just got a $40 parking ticket! She was furious, indignant, embarrassed, and, most of all, sure it wasn't her fault. Of course she told me she'd pay for it out of her allowance, but the reason for the ticket had her so riled up, I could barely calm her down. It seems that the meter she parked at was in the "out of order" mode. There was no large sign on the meter - just that little barely readable part on the meter itself that is often foggy and scratched from years of use. Apparently it was stuck in that "out of order" position. She couldn't get the quarters to go in.

Now, my daughter, who is very conscientious about her newly acquired license to drive, called home to see if she could find someone who knew if it would be illegal to park in that space even if she couldn't feed the meter any dough. Nobody knew - but the consensus was, that it would be okay. (I, unfortunately was on a plane headed for a meeting, and couldn't be reached, because I would certainly have told her to err on the side of caution and look for another place to park...but, oh well.)

At any rate, it apparently wasn't okay to the traffic officer on duty in that area, and he or she plopped a $40 ticket down on my daughter's windshield. Though a parking ticket certainly doesn't fall into the 'end of the world' category of the trials and tribulations of adolescence, this little incident got me thinking. Where is it written that if the meters for parking places are damaged or otherwise unusable, that it automatically renders that parking space null and void, and also unusable? I mean, is this actually a law?

I get it that our permission to park in city-owned areas requires us to pay a "toll" to use them. And those fees accumulated from various quantities of quarters over the course of the day, or better still, nice fat ticket revenues collected from unwitting -- or witting, as the case may be -- souls who didn't feed the meters, will help fill the city's coffers to do various "city" work, which is fine by me. There's plenty of work to be done.

What I don't get, is what about the "what if's?" Even to me -- a girl who won't cut in line at the movie theaters, or anywhere else for that matter because I have a basic cognitive-dissonance problem with breaking rules, it seems like a wasted effort to let a parking place lie fallow because of a maintenance issue. There's a premium on parking spaces in nearly every city - and particularly in our "bursting at the seams" L.A. If that meter had been working - the city would have made 50 cents. But since it wasn't working - and there was no way to pay the 50 cents, they'll now make forty bucks. I guess that gives the city the incentive they need to leave the meter broken.

Though I empathize with my teen-age daughter about the latest tuition she paid into 'the school of hard knocks,' this episode made me ponder our country's overall infrastructure issues. What a tedious and probably inefficient job it must be to make sure all of the thousands of parking meters are functioning and adequately collecting quarters. By the time the service company in charge of such things completes its rounds, it's time to begin again. It's like "a woman's work." It's never done. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that one).

We have big problems with city, state and federal budgets, and huge problems with our infrastructure. Much of the behind-the-scenes structures are old and falling apart - take the sewer lines, and the recent nasty sink holes as one example. And since this administration is loathe to raise taxes - preferring instead to drain funds away from existing programs and projects, the patchwork quilt of fixing a bit here and a bit there, is going to prolong a steady decline of some of our most basic services, and could potentially cost us (the taxpayers) more money in the long run. As most of us know, it's easier to fix a leak when you first notice it, because you can be sure that if you let the water drip, drip, drip, it'll creep under your floorboards, or crawl along the studs in your ceiling, and do lots of damage to the guts of your house that'll take more effort and more dollars to resolve, than if you had tackled the issue directly.

Some cities, and Aspen Colorado is one, have rid themselves of individual parking meters altogether. Instead, there are payment kiosks located strategically - usually in the middle of the block. After you deposit your $$, the machine pumps out a receipt which you then display on the dashboard of your car. Simple. No meters to feed, no quarters to chase. Though this system still requires traffic monitors to check for the receipts - it does seem to resolve the issue of broken meters scattered about town - and all the service complications that go with them.

Alas, the only thing it doesn't resolve is the lack of parking spaces in the first place. And that's the problem we have here in busy, bustling Los Angeles. So, although it would be nice if our city planners could streamline the parking meter issue, and perhaps one day they'll have the budget and the time to do so, for now - I'm telling my daughter to leave all those empty, broken spaces alone -- and to keep driving around, until she can find one that will take her quarters. Until she gets a job, her allowance won't cover many of those $40 tickets.