February 26, 2010

Meter reader takes pride in keeping Portland moving

By RAY ROUTHIER Staff Writer

— By RAY ROUTHIER

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John Patriquin /Staff Photographer; Thursday , Dec.17, 2009. Reporter Ray Routhier (on right) checks a expired meter as Portland Parking Control Officer Chad Jones writes out a ticket during his rounds in the Old Port.

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John Patriquin /Staff Photographer; Thursday , Dec.17, 2009. Some of the street signs seen by reporter Ray Routhier as he follows Portland Parking Control Officer Chad Jones on his rounds in the Old Port.

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Staff Writer

PORTLAND — It was about 12 degrees outside, and Chad Jones was trying to give people a break.

I was patrolling the Old Port on a recent Thursday morning with Jones, a parking control officer for the city of Portland, looking for parking scofflaws.

Twice in the space of about 20 minutes, I saw Jones write up tickets for people parked illegally. And then tell those people he was willing to rip the tickets up. If they had no other tickets outstanding with the city of Portland, that is.

The first man, whose Mercedes was parked in a no-parking zone on Fore Street near Center Street, ran out of a storefront when he saw Jones place the ticket on his car.

When Jones gave him his proposition, the man said he had no outstanding tickets. Jones called the parking control dispatcher on his radio and found out that was not true; he had one worth $30 he had not paid.

The man said that was ''impossible'' and that his secretary had paid the ticket.

The man argued with Jones for a while. But Jones still gave him a break, telling him if he paid the $30 outstanding ticket by the next day, he wouldn't have to pay the $25 ticket Jones had just given him.

''People tell me I'm a big softie, but I like to give people a break when I can, when they're not causing a hazard,'' said Jones, 41, sitting in the relative warmth of a city-owned pickup truck after writing out the ticket.

''But this guy wanted to be a wise guy, and he tells me he doesn't have any outstanding tickets when he does.''

In the other case, Jones was driving slowly down Pleasant Street, near High Street, when he saw a young man in a pickup truck stop in a commercial loading zone, where only vehicles with commercial plates are allowed.

Jones slowed down so the man would see him in his official-looking truck. The man looked right at Jones, then got out of his truck and went into a building. He left his hazard lights on, which Jones said was a sure sign the man knew he wasn't supposed to be there.

When the man came out and saw the ticket Jones had written, he walked over to Jones' truck and asked ''Isn't this an unloading zone?''

Jones responded: ''You need commercial plates to park here, sir. But if you don't have any outstanding tickets, you won't have to pay this one.''

The man said, ''No.'' Jones then clicked on his radio, to ask the dispatcher if the man had any other tickets. The man then got in his truck and drove away before finding out if he would get out of paying.

''Either he was mad or just wasn't listening to me,'' said Jones.

Jones has been a parking control officer for more than 11 years, spending his days patrolling downtown Portland and handing out about 50 to 100 tickets each day. The fines his tickets carry range from $15 for an expired meter to $200 for parking in a ''disabled zone.''

There are nine city parking control officers, who work staggered shifts and patrol the heavily parked parts of Portland.

The day I was with Jones, he worked the first couple hours of his shift alone, patrolling mostly between Franklin Arterial and High Street, downtown and in the Old Port.

Jones has heard his share of insults and taunts from people, including ''get a real job.'' But he works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., pays his bills and has medical benefits for his family, so he's not sure what the hecklers mean.

He also feels his job is important.

''You see that commercial spot right there? That's for trucks making deliveries before noon only, so if somebody else takes that spot, those trucks have to wait or park somewhere where they might block traffic,'' said Jones.

''And you see that FedEx truck, and that UPS truck? They'll be in and out in a minute, so I'm not worried about them. But if all these delivery trucks had nowhere to park down here, the city would shut down.''

And to be fair to business patrons, Jones says if he tickets one car on a street, he can't let any violators on the same street go undetected. No matter how long the street is. And contrary to a popular myth, the meters aren't hooked up to a computer at City Hall, letting officers know when they have expired.

So we walked down the street, looking for red on meters, which is the sign they've expired. I had to walk up to each meter to see the red. Jones can stand in a spot and look up and down the street, checking five or more meters at a time.

In the space of two blocks, he had written five tickets, including three for cars with out-of-state plates. There were two or three other meters that were also expired, but showed signs of being out of order -- cracked plastic, blinking yellow light, coins jammed -- so Jones did not ticket the cars at those spots. Some meters we passed had only one or two minutes left on them, but we kept walking. We didn't wait for time to run out.

Once in a while after ticketing someone, Jones would check his ''scoff'' book, a printed list of every car that is ''bootable'' at this point in time. That means the car is eligible to be fitted with a Denver boot on its tire, rendering it unable to move.

To be bootable in Portland, a car must have three outstanding Portland tickets, all at least 10 days old. We found none on the morning I was with Jones.

He also ''chalked'' several cars in timed spots, including 30-minute commercial spots, so he could check back later and make sure they had moved. He uses chalk to see if people stay longer than two hours at a meter. Putting more money in after two hours is a violation, ''overtime parking,'' and is subject to a $15 ticket.

Many of the tickets Jones gave out while I was with him were tickets he said could be ''forgiven.'' Overtime parking, expired meter and taking up more than one metered space are all tickets that you don't have to pay in Portland if you haven't had any other city tickets for six months.

Jones agrees with the policy, saying again that he's a ''big softie.''

''We don't want people to think we're hiding around the corner waiting to give out tickets, because we're not,'' said Jones.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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John Patriquin /Staff Photographer; Thursday , Dec.17, 2009. Reporter Ray Routhier follows Portland Parking Control Officer Chad Jones as he places a parking ticket on a vehicle during his rounds in the Old Port.

  


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