For as yet unknown reasons, Santa Monica’s parking meters are breaking and drivers are literally paying the price.

Parking meters throughout the city are preventing drivers from selecting the amount of time they want to pay for at that meter. Instead, drivers are forced to pay for however many hours the meter defaults to, regardless of the amount of time they want to spend at that location.

City Hall is aware that some meters are broken and said customers who are overcharged can request a refund.

“It is unclear what is causing the button issue at some of our parking meters,” said Communications and Public Information Manager Lauren G. Howland. “As each faulty button is identified, city staff removes and replaces the faulty meter part with a functioning part and sends the faulty part back to the meter vendor for repair, since the parts are under warranty. The vendor is gathering more information about the issue and trying to determine how to fix it long-term.”

About 50 meters have been replaced so far but the City has no way to preemptively identify which meters are broken and is reliant on customer complaints to track the problem.

“We’re looking into a more permanent solution that allows us to find and track meters that need to be replaced,” said Howland.

The impacted meters are all relatively new, only 2-3 years old but are part of the wave of “smart meters” Santa Monica moved to about 11 years ago with the installation of meters that could accept contactless payments, track occupied spaces and reset meters when a vehicle leaves a space.

According to a 2022 case study released by the meters’ manufacturer (IPS Group), the meters have had vastly reduced downtime up to now and operate at about 98% efficiency. About 83% of transactions are conducted without coins and the reset feature generates about $1.5 million in additional revenue per year.

Customers who are overcharged can request a refund via the city’s online 311 system ( Howland said they should include the following information:

  1. Date and time of parking.
  2. Street and nearest cross street.
  3. The last four digits of the card they used to pay.
  4. The meter number, which can be found on a sticker on the outside of the meter.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...