COLUMBIA — There's a reason why the little yellow surprises that city parking officers leave on your windshield seem absent during rainy weather.
Enforcement of outdoor meters relaxes when it's raining because the AutoCITE printers used to produce parking tickets are particularly sensitive to moisture, Columbia Parking Supervisor Bill Lewis said.
Regardless, the city of Columbia requires all meters to be paid from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday though Saturday excluding certain holidays
“If people park in a hazard zone, we will ticket regardless of the weather,” Lewis said, “Suppose they cause an accident.”
The city’s models of the AutoCITE machine, which are no longer produced and were purchased in 1994, cost between $2,500 to $3,000 each and have to be sent to California to be serviced.
The machines use actual print ribbons, unlike thermo printers, which use heat-sensitive paper instead of ink. So when water gets in them, ink runs everywhere, Lewis said.
“If two or three of them are messed up at once, it’s a big problem. Sometimes we get down to just two of them. We encourage our attendants not to let them get wet,"
Lewis said. "The heat is even a problem sometimes because of sweaty hands. Snow usually doesn’t present us with any problems, though. The AutoCITE machine is a good tool, but like any tool it has to be cared for."
This obstacle to parking enforcement isn’t limited to just the downtown parking area. The Columbia Police Department, which is responsible for ticketing areas like East Campus and residential side streets, use the same machines to issue tickets that parking enforcement officers use downtown.
"Anytime you have electronics and water, it’s not really good," Capt. Zim Schwartz of the Columbia Police Department said. "So we do hesitate to get those out when there is a storm or when it's wet because we don’t want the device getting wet. Now if it’s a ticket and tow then we will issue the citation because we can just include the violation with the tow slip.”
Schwartz also said the police, unlike downtown parking enforcement, do not have protective envelopes to place tickets inside of and fear tickets might not survive inclement weather.
According to Schwartz, when there is time, the police will go out to look for offenders in areas known for violations like East Campus, similar to how parking is enforced downtown. “We like to set the tone early in the year. Yellow means yellow, and people need to know that it's marked like that for a reason and not to park in it.”
The police also respond to parking complaints and can be called to do parking enforcement on their non-emergency number.
While street parking may not be enforced as much during wet weather, downtown parking enforcement hits the parking garages extra hard.
“It’s not so much because we can’t ticket the streets, but because we know that is where people are going to park," said Lewis. “It’s convenience and protected parking. I understand why they park in the garages, but I don’t understand why they don’t pay for their parking.”
Lewis also said the rain presents the city with a unique opportunity to catch individuals who are on their tow order list. “We use the rain to catch a lot of people who are on the ‘scofflaw’ list. They don’t want to walk or bike because of the rain and then park in the city's garages. People should pay their tickets because they are going to need their cars in the rain, and we do a lot of towing when it rains.”
To get on the “scofflaw” list, an individual must have at least four unpaid parking tickets and have received a notice on their windshield that they are now eligible to be towed, said Shara Meyer, Columbia municipal court clerk. The city can also only tow from public streets and lots, and cannot tow from businesses and private residences.
“We don’t like to tow any more than people like to be towed,” Meyer said, “but it has to happen if people don’t pay their tickets.”
All of the city’s parking regulations can be found in city ordinance 14-307.