PHOENIX - There are 60 minutes in an hour. Everybody knows that - except, perhaps an indeterminate number of faulty parking meters that may be having trouble keeping time.
If you drive downtown enough, you may have experienced it. Drop 50 cents in the slot for half an hour, and you come back in 20 minutes to find a red flag showing in face of the meter and a ticket under your windshield. You could have sworn you were back in plenty of time.
Well, House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, believes maybe you were right and the meter was wrong. But try telling that to a judge.
Or maybe you inserted your last two coins and you still get nothing but a red flag. Do you walk away to look for more change, or go ahead and do your business, and run the risk of a citation that could cost $50 or more?
A Campbell-sponsored bill to mandate cities regularly test meters to make sure they work and keep accurate time was unanimously approved by the House Government Committee Tuesday.
The bill requires a random 10 percent of a city's meters to be tested every three months. If more than 25 percent fail the city would be forced to stop issuing meter citations until they're all tested and fixed.
For Tucson, that could cost big bucks.
The city takes in more than $900,000 a year from its 1,300 meters, and collects another almost $900,000 fines for all parking violations.
Campbell said he's been that person, nailed by a bad meter, as have some of his constituents.
"It eats your money, does not give you any credit for your money, you're out of change and you're kind of left stranded as you have to head into a meeting in the next five minutes," he said.
And Campbell sought to put HB 2086 into terms that the Republican majority in the Legislature would appreciate. He called it a "pro-business bill," saying that dysfunctional meters only discourage people from coming downtown to shop.
Campbell's bill would require that if fewer than three-quarters of the meters checked out, then the city would have to test, inspect and calibrate all of them, and would void any new citations issued until that is done.
"We have some pretty outdated equipment," conceded Donovan Durband, administrator of ParkWise, the parking agency for the city. He said a lot of city meters use old-style clock technology that cannot be adjusted if the timing is off.
But Durband said ParkWise employees already go out and replace the batteries on all meters every three months and check to see that the devices are operating properly.
Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, said she is concerned about the cost of such a mandate on cities.
But Campbell was unmoved.
"Quite frankly, if they're stealing money from the residents, that's the burden I should be worried about," he said.
At least part of the problem could be solved if cities upgrade their meters to the latest technology that accepts credit and debit cards.