- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

The District of Columbia's computerized parking meters reject the new 50-state quarters more than twice as often as the regular coins, The Washington Times has learned.
The city's seven-year, $25 million contract with Lockheed Martin IMS, which installed and monitors the 15,000 electronic meters, allows for a 3 percent failure rate.
But a recent survey by the D.C. Department of Public Works and Traffic Adjudication, which oversees the contract, found that 7 percent of the meters reject the new quarters.
"They just eat them up. I want my money's worth," said Isaac Odom, a heating and air conditioning contractor who was parked at an expired meter after feeding it two of the new quarters.
"They are supposed to have 97 percent of their meters up and operating," said Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the Public Works Committee. "Up and operating means accepting the proper money."
"I've been harping on this," she said. "I have said that I want to have these contracts monitored."
Mrs. Schwartz has scheduled hearings on the meters and the contract in September.
DPW recently tested 129 parking meters near the mayor's office and found nine that would not accept the state quarters, which the U.S. Mint began stamping last year.
The meters that rejected the new quarters, however, accepted older quarters.
Officials for the city, Lockheed Martin, the meters' manufacturer, Duncan Industries Inc., and the U.S. Mint could not explain why the state coins do not register in some meters. They said the new and old quarters have the same dimensions, weight and electronic "signature," so there should be no difference between the two.
Yet motorists seeking a place to park have found a difference between the quarters when they plunk them in the meters.
"Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," said Antoine Johnson, a special police officer who works security at a shoe store in the 1900 block of 14th Street NW, half a block from DPW headquarters at the Reeves Center.
"They take the money, but they do not give the time. If I run out of time, that's a $15 ticket," said the 37-year-old Woodbridge resident. "There's no reason. They just want to get their money."
Parking meter revenue in fiscal 1999 totaled $12.7 million. By comparison, meters yielded $6.7 million in fiscal 1998 and $7 million in 1997. In those years, many of the city's 40-year-old meters were rendered useless by vandals.
Linda Grant, a DPW spokeswoman said technicians check a certain number of meters weekly and have found, since Feb. 26, that 226 of 3,800 meters did not accept coins of any type. She said DPW has not recognized a trend in which new quarters are a problem.
Mrs. Grant said DPW receives about 1,500 complaints a month, some about the new quarters. She said technicians this week will use a diagnostic machine that will allow them to check a machine's last 50 transactions and see if there is a pattern of failure.
"If there is a trend, we will certainly know about it," she said. "The whole point is to stop it in its tracks."
Andrew Sun, spokesman for Duncan Industries in Harrison, Ark., said he does not believe there is a malfunction in the meters, but rather in the way they are operated or maintained.
"We have meters in several parts of the country and have not had any problems with the new quarters," Mr. Sun said. "There are lots of things that could happen. There are whole kinds of operational problems. We have talked with our folks, and there is no problem with coin recognition."
Lockheed spokesman Terry Lynam said technicians test between 250 and 500 meters each week and have found that on average 98.8 percent are working properly. He said they have not had a complaint about the new coins.
"When we get complaints about specific meters, we will send out a crew in 24 hours," Mr. Lynam said. "Nobody has complained about the new coins. We have not focused in on the state quarters. We will keep an eye out for them. If there is some type of adjustment that can be done, we will recalibrate the mechanism so it will read them."
The city signed a seven-year contract with Lockheed in February 1998 to maintain the meters, and the company must pay the city $2.80 per meter when the number of malfunctioning meters is above 3 percent.
After the beginning of the contract, the meters had to be removed and adjusted because they would not accept less-than-perfect coins. That problem has been corrected.

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