Meter Beaters Cost St. John’s $1.5 Million in Three Years

Crumpled Atlantic Canadian headlines and news clippings fetched from our waste bins and neatly delivered in the Secret East #Newsbag…

Maybe some day the rows of headless parking meters in downtown St. John’s will be a part of the Haunted Hike, with fabled lore about the uncaught vigilante vandal who mysteriously prowled the streets at night lopping the heads off defenceless meters all in the name of free parking.

But with a bill of $1.5 million in lost revenue and repair or replacement costs for the city of St. John’s since 2015, is the culprit really such a Robin Hood figure? Sure, park for free now, but the city is keen to remind you that you’ll be paying for it in tax dollars later.

“Hold my beer”: a headless meter serves as a bottle holder on the St. John’s waterfront. Photo by Liam Penney

This is of the lighter assumption that the meter beaters of the last three years are actually doing it for anything more than the $15 average of coins that sit inside, which is the most realistic reason behind the bashings.

The Canadian Press reported last week that most of the heads have been beaten off the 1,167 parking meters at least once since their installation in 2014. Each meter initially cost $474 a pop, and J.J. McKay Canada Ltd, the company that provides meters to over 1,000 municipalities in Canada, has said they’ve never seen such a high level of destruction of their units.

Most recently, the city of St. John’s opted not to repair or replace the 136 busted meters on Harbour Drive, resulting in free parking on the waterfront.

Does this mean the meter beaters win? Even after costing the city $1.5 million, if the ultimate end goal is free parking in downtown St. John’s, is it within grasp?

Nope, because the paid parking system is about to get an upgrade.

According to the Canadian Press report, the City of St. John’s are ready to implement a new cashless parking system that will utilize a smart phone app to process payments.

Maybe there is a shallow grave somewhere out there full of decapitated meter heads, or perhaps they’re swimming with the fishes. The only thing that is for certain is, after at least four charges laid in the slew of vandalism, the incidents keep occurring.

Perhaps the actions are more than just the act of a single vigilante recklessly attempting to give back to the people  — maybe it is a wider collective hitting the streets with bats and hammers in their hands as a large network of vandals swinging together for what they believe should be free.

While your imagination likely wants to believe that outlandish idea, it is much more likely that the string of petty thefts speak more to the desperate economic times of a growingly vulnerable population in the city of St. John’s.

It seems the robbery of parking meters is one of the least violent options in a “desperate times, desperate measures” scenario. At least the heads in jeopardy of being busted are those of a piece of curb-side machinery and not attached to the shoulders of a gas station clerk.

Needless to say, the problems plaguing St. John’s are rooted much deeper than vandalism. The solution to these issues will only come to light as we continue to address the poverty, addiction and mental health issues in Newfoundland & Labrador.

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