So you've driven downtown to shop, parked the car, plunked a quarter into the meter and -- nothing.

Another quarter or two. Still a red flag. And you're now out of coins.

State lawmakers took the first steps Tuesday to end that frustration -- and the risk of getting a ticket for parking there anyway -- by approving a new requirement for cities to regularly do random tests of meters to ensure that not only that they're working but that they're accurate.

And cities that don't keep meters in good repair would not be able to collect fines from overtime parkers.

The sponsor of the legislation, House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said he's been that person, 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.

The legislation would require each city to check 10 percent of their meters every three months, not only to ensure that they are working but also that they are not short-changing those who have paid for an hour but might be getting something less -- and leaving them liable for expensive citations for overtime parking.

If fewer than three-quarters of the meters checked out, then the city would have to test, inspect and calibrate all of them. More to the point, any citations issued after a finding of a failure rate of more than 25 percent would make any citations issued during that time unenforceable.

Donovan Durband, administrator of ParkWise, the parking agency for the city of Tucson, said there are 1,300 meters.

"We have some pretty outdated equipment,'' he conceded, using old-style clock technology that cannot be adjusted if the timing is off. But Durband said agency employees already go out and replace the batteries on all meters every three months and check to see that the devices are operating properly.

Those that provide inaccurate time have their entire innards replaced,'' he said.

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.

Campbell 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. He said that, at least, would mean that would-be parkers would not have to carry around pockets full of change to keep feeding a meter that is being balky.

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