'It's just really strange': Who is beheading the parking meters of St. John's?
Parking meters are shown in St.John's, N.L. on Sunday, April 15, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sue Bailey
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- In Washington, D.C., it was the fabled meter massacre back in the mid-1990s. In 2012, a man from the Bronx was accused of using super glue to thwart paid parking. In Chicago, irate drivers clogged coin slots with expanding foam when fees were hiked in 2009.
But now someone -- or some people -- is vandalizing coin and card-reading meters in St. John's, N.L., at a truly staggering rate, according to the company that supplies them.
"They've never seen anything like the vandalism and theft of parking meter heads that we've experienced here," St. John's Mayor Danny Breen said of J.J. MacKay Canada Ltd. -- the New Glasgow, N.S.-based company that serves 1,000 municipalities.
It appears the weapons of choice were baseball bats and sledge hammers to beat the heads off most of the city's 1,167 parking machines since they were installed four years ago for about $474 apiece.
More than 1,000 meters have been damaged at one time or another since March 2015 in over 90 attacks. At least four people have been charged.
This, despite the fact each head typically holds no more than about $15 a day.
Chef Todd Perrin, co-owner of Mallard Cottage restaurant, has watched the parking debacle unfold with amazement.
"I've been fortunate enough to travel around a fair bit and I've never seen anything like it," he said in an interview. "It's not like a random one here or there. It's almost as though someone is systematically going around trying to destroy every single parking meter in St. John's.
"It's just really, really strange. In a city that always could use more revenue, it's a bit of a mind boggler."
The growing price tag for cash-strapped St. John's city council is almost $1.5 million since 2015 in lost revenue, repairs and replacements.
"I'd describe it as extremely frustrating," Breen said. "To see this amount of destruction happen at a significant cost to taxpayers is very disheartening."
Long stretches of meters in various parts of the city's downtown sit eerily headless, including one used to deposit empty Tim Hortons cups. All 136 parking spots on Harbour Drive, along the waterfront, are now free after the city decided not to replace those machines, Breen said.
Instead, a new cashless system will be tried for that area starting in June. Drivers will pay to park using a smart phone app or a 1-800 number.
Other areas will see a mix of new pay stations, meters and permits over the next five years as part of a system overhaul, said St. John's City Coun. Debbie Hanlon.
She blames mental health issues, poverty and drug addiction.
"Why else would someone take a baseball bat and beat off the top of a meter for $15? The average person wouldn't do that."
Hanlon hopes people gloating about free all-day parking downtown will keep this in mind: The $1.5 million lost so far could have gone a long way.
"That's money that could go back in the roads, it could keep our taxes lower, it could improve the downtown. It's losing money -- and that's unfortunate for all of us."