Do you have to pay? Parking policies around the Bay

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Have you ever seen a broken parking meter with a brown paper bag placed over it? That used to be the way a motorist informed a parking officer that the meter was broken and they couldn't pay. Can you still do that today with "smart meters" and not get a ticket?

If you take a close look at a San Francisco parking meters, there are directions, rules and explanations They even come in different colors: red, yellow, green and metal-colored. San Francisco's smart parking meters may be smart, but that doesn't mean they are easy to understand.

I met Jack Chen as he was parking Fisherman's Wharf. The meter he was at takes coins, credit or debit cards, "Pay by Phone" or a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Parking Card.

I offer to pay using one of those cards. "I just got this to try it, so let's see if it works," I say.

Jack says okay, and we insert the card like a credit card.

And nothing happens.

We try it again. Nothing.

We try it a half dozen times, even turning it upside down. It did not work.

So do we have to pay?

"So if it won't take my card, I need come up with coins," I ask San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Paul Rose.

"If it won't take your card, you should have coins. You should always have a plan B if you are trying to park in San Francisco," he tells me. "Just because there is a bag or the light is flashing indicating one form of payment isn't available. You should have a plan B: credit card, parking card or coins."

Does that seem fair? I ask Jack. He doesn't have a problem with it.

"It is no big deal," he tells me, "Most people pay with credit cards today... So, I am okay with that."

San Francisco is banning cashless stores, so I asked: isn't this also cashless? How is this any different? I was told it isn't cashless since you can buy a parking card with cash.

Seven On Your Side intern Desirae Zuniga spot checked around the Bay and found nearly the same policy in every city.

  • San Jose has approximately 2,400 metered spots that accept coins, credit cards, smartphone payment, or pay-by-phone. If one form of payment is malfunctioning, the motorist is still required to pay using another method. If the meter is totally out of order, no payment needs to be made.


  • Oakland has approximately 7,800 metered parking spots. Parking meters accept coins, credit and debit cards, as well as mobile payment currently provided by Park Mobile. If a meter accepts at least one form of payment, it is not considered broken or inoperable

  • San Rafael has 942 parking meters with most accepting coins, debit and credit cards, or pay by the app Park Mobile. If the coin slot is jammed or card is not accepted, the motorist is still obligated to pay using the Park Mobile app.

  • Palo Alto doesn't have parking meters, but it does have parking pay stations. The stations only accept credit and debit cards, however motorists can pay with cash at City Hall during operating hours.


All the cities checked say if the meter is broken, the posted time limits still apply.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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