Back when parking tickets in Detroit were a mere $20, or $10 if paid within ten days, parking in legal ambiguity was not such a risky move. On busy days, getting a ticket was a deal compared to parking in many of the downtown lots. Since the dawn of the $45 ticket rate set by the parking department in June of 2014, risky parking is now a lot riskier.

The raise in price has angered a lot of Detroiters and frequent visitors and has even been deemed a “War on the Poor.” Regardless, it makes the sting of spotting a little white ticket tucked under your windshield wiper a more financially painful experience.

I received my most recent ticket at a broken electronic meter. Realizing my meter was out of service, I decided not to move my car as all other cars in my row were without tickets. An hour and a half later I discovered my ticket. Incredulous, I inspected the electronic meter a second time to find a mildew ridden, barely legible hand written note with the words, “Out of order […] 1 hour allowed” scrawled out and taped to it.

Broken meter with a very professional Out of Order sign.
Broken meter with a very professional Out of Order sign.

Thinking that I could dismiss my ticket using a Broken Meter Form, I went to the parking department’s hub on West Lafayette St. the next day and was enlightened. The nice and charismatic woman working the window told me that a “Broken Meter Form” wouldn’t be applicable to me because my ticket was not an expired meter violation but was instead an overtime parking violation. She then explained that a broken meter space can be legally parked in for the duration of the maximum time that the meter would, if functioning, allow. This means that if you park at a broken meter that lists itself as “One Hour Parking” then you have one hour in that space and only after that hour are you eligible for a parking ticket. As far as we could research, this rule isn’t listed by the City of Detroit in any readily accessible way for the public to find.

This pseudo-secretive rule demystified what I had thought about parking at broken meters, which was that chance determined whether or not a ticket would be issued. Knowing that you can legally park at a broken meter without the anxiety of maybe getting a ticket is exciting to me because approximately 50% of Detroit’s parking meters are broken. There is a lot of free parking to be had.

Bonus Tip: If you do get a ticket and decide to fight it at the Detroit Municipal Parking Department on West Lafayette Street, don’t worry about paying the well kept, functioning meters when parking. According to a security guard manning the metal detector inside, the city doesn’t bother ticketing people there. He told me this as I was heading out to top up my meter while waiting in line. I took his word for it and drove off ticketless. A kind gesture from Detroit’s parking enforcement.

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