ORLANDO, Fla. - Michael Cecchini was searching for parking near Orlando City Stadium last month ahead of the second World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Panama.
Cecchini found a parking spot shortly before 5:30 p.m., so he inserted enough coins into the parking meter to carry him past 6 p.m., when free parking begins.
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He didn't realize was that the meter was broken. After the match, he found a parking ticket tucked beneath his vehicle's windshield wiper.
"I knew right away it was incorrect," Cecchini said. "I knew I put 75 cents in. I knew I was good until 6 o’clock. The more I got to thinking about it, it wasn't right."
There are 1,100 parking meters in downtown Orlando. There are an average of more than 300 errors reported each month. But it's up to those who are mistakenly issued tickets to dispute them.
Investigative reporter Christopher Heath reviewed two years' worth of city records and found thousands of meter errors, including a weak battery, a coin blockage and a card-reader fault.
The digital meters submit reports several times daily. The city employs four full-time staffers and one part-time employee whose job it is to take in error reports and repair the meters. The city said most meters are fixed within 24 hours.
"The new meters give us the ability to -- (in) real-time -- check the meter," said Scott Zollars, who manages the city's parking division. "If it is not proper, we will void the citation."
But the city relies on drivers to spot errors. It doesn't cross-reference meter errors with issued tickets.
"That would require a lot of man hours and staffing time," Zollars said. "We only have a handful of these a year and we have millions of transactions, so it’s really just a small precentage."
Cecchini said he spent several hours emailing back and forth with the city.
"You have to get it done within 14 days or there are extra fees tacked on," he said.
Cecchini fought his ticket and won when the city realized its error.
9 Investigates learned that in the last two years, the city has issued five refunds because of malfunctioning meters.
Cecchini said he wonders how many drivers have unnecessarily paid the $22 fine.
"That’s about what I would have paid to park in a (parking) lot or (parking) garage," Cecchini said.
It's unknown how many drivers have paid tickets issued in error, because the city relies on drivers to appeal the ticket.
Drivers who challenge tickets that aren't issued because of meter errors must complete a four-page form and have it notarized and submitted within two weeks of receiving it.
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