Many Berkeley parking meters now accept most coins

New parking meters with credit card payment options are part of the goBerkeley program. Photo: Steer Davies Gleave

The Berkeley City Council has, for the most part, done away with cash-payment minimums at parking meters. Photo: Steer Davies Gleave

In the wake of public frustration and confusion after Berkeley adjusted many of its parking meters to require a minimum cash payment of 30 or 35 cents, depending on the area, the city has rolled back the changes to allow meters city-wide to register any amount from a nickel on up.

According to a city staff report prepared for a September vote by the Berkeley City Council to fix the problem, the city began hearing criticism about the meter minimum earlier this year during its goBerkeley outreach campaign to change metered parking rates and time limits in three of the city’s business districts.

Members of the public said they were confused because meters were failing to register payment. Unbeknownst to some, it was because the 30- or 35-cent threshold had not been met. Putting in change that didn’t register left some wondering if the meters were broken. So they were unsure whether to keep trying, find a new space, or walk away and try their luck.

Speaking at a council meeting about goBerkeley in July, and seemingly unaware of the minimum payment rule, Councilman Laurie Capitelli noted: “I still haven’t figured out, maybe since we’ve really got the wealth of all nations here in terms of parking wisdom: Sometimes I put a quarter into a parking meter and it doesn’t register anything. Could you explain that to me?”

Replied city staffer Willa Ng: “There’s a minimum transaction.”

Capitelli: “Even for cash?”

Ng: “At credit-card enabled meters.”

Capitelli: “I’m just putting a quarter in and it still says ‘zero.'”

Councilwoman Linda Maio: “It’s broken.”

Capitelli: “No, because then if I put another quarter in, it gives it time.”

Ng explained that, at credit-card enabled meters, there was a 12-minute minimum payment required. No meter time is purchased until the minimum fee is reached.

Capitelli: “What if I just want to take my dry cleaning in and come right out?”

Mayor Tom Bates: “Don’t worry.”

Maio to Capitelli: “That’s a good point.”

Joked Bates: “Take a chance…”

Given the degree of confusion among even city officials who are charged with being the most informed about city issues, a policy change of some sort was likely in order. The city also said, in the staff report, that it received numerous complaints from merchants and residents about the minimum payment requirement.

The problem came about as part of a city effort to standardize its meters so that all of them, both single-space meters as well as credit card-enabled stations, would register no less than the 30-cent minimum for 12 minutes.

Council members voted in September to eliminate the minimum cash payment so that each coin type — 5 cents and above — will register on meters. (For credit and debit card transactions, a minimum 12-minute payment will still be required; the city said it hadn’t received feedback citing problems with that issue.)

But there hasn’t been much outreach about the change.

Noted one reader on Berkeleyside last week, when the goBerkeley parking meter program went live: “Make sure to bring at least two coins — despite being $1.50 an hour you can’t pay with a single quarter. You must buy at least 12 minutes for $0.30. This annoyance brought to you by the addition of credit card processing in parking meters….”

Added another commenter, “I have also been annoyed to put a quarter into a meter and realize it won’t buy me even one minute — I have to add a nickel to reach the 30-cent minimum.”

City spokesman Matthai Chakko jumped in quickly to explain that “the city is in the process of reprogramming the meters so that all meters will accept a single nickel.”

As of Oct. 15, he said, “all single space meters citywide accept nickels. As for the multispace meters, they’re already changed in the goBerkeley areas and they will be changed citywide.”

The city said, via the September staff report, that Berkeley could lose as much as $61,580 in payments to its Parking Meter Fund — assuming meter-user cash spending is the same as it was in 2012-13 — if all minimum coin transactions of 30 or 35 cents are reduced to a nickel, “however, it is unlikely there would be that many transaction changes.”

In 2012-13, the city reported more than 223,300 12-minute minimum coin transactions, for a total revenue of $72,700.

Metered parking changes launch Tuesday in Berkeley (10.15.13)
goBerkeley parking rules get final public review (for now) (08.08.13)
2 goBerkeley public meetings on parking coming up (07.31.13)
Details unveiled on proposed metered parking changes (07.03.13)
City sets goBerkeley transportation program in motion (06.27.13)
Berkeley council weighs in on parking pilot program (06.12.13)
Parking changes slated for 3 Berkeley business zones (05.23.13)
goBerkeley answers frequently asked questions (City of Berkeley)
Take the goBerkeley parking survey (goBerkeley)

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  • Britt Badgley Alamo

    great news. I thought this was yet another effort on the part of the city to nickel and dime us. The other day I had ONE quarter and needed to run into the bank…. and could not get time on the meter.

  • Neil

    Don’t forget the additonal revenue when someone is willing to put in a dime or so to run into a coffee shop or the cleaners. When faced with a 30 cent minimum for a quick trip, I just did not pay. I do not mind paying a dime (when I had one) but was unwilling tp purchase the “minimum”.

  • emraguso

    I thought about this as well — that there could potentially be more revenue due to factors like the one you noted.

  • Ms Petit

    I just want them to fix the stupid machines that have problems with debit visa cards and then don’t take coins. It seriously bugs me ALL the flipping time

  • oceanview neighbor

    I figured out a long time ago to carry plenty of change for parking meters. I find it amusing all this fuss over nickles and dimes. Compared to the cost of the parking tickets these days it just makes sense to be prepared. I’d gladly put in an extra quarter, or even heaven forbid a third quarter to prevent getting a ticket!

  • EBGuy

    I don’t think you understand the problem. Many rational people expect a parking meter to register when you put in a quarter. When it doesn’t register your monetary input, many rational people are led to believe that the meter is broken.

  • oceanview neighbor

    Yes, I understand. I am rational and when that very thing happened to me, I thought it strange but I quickly moved on when all I had to do was add a nickel. That’s all. I get it, just don’t see why it’s as big a deal to others. Perhaps that does make me irrational, I can accept that about myself.

  • Susan Priano

    Great news to make Berkeley more civil! Yet I never for one hot second believed parking meters or the subsequent citations are for the benefit of it’s citizens. Getting your first citation is harrowing when you make every effort to be a model citizen and yet these things are designed to make you fail. Try to shop or use the library when your meter is running! The line, ” Berkeley could lose as much as $61,580 in payments to its Parking Meter Fund” reminds me its about the city making money on us rather than keeping parking equitable and available. Lets be more civilized, If the City needs money wouldn’t it be kinder and more civil to its community to find alternate means than keeping us on our toes by nickel and dime -ing us?.

  • serkes

    And if the meter still doesn’t work, take a photo of the Fail (or whatever it is) sign and the meter and if convenient upload it to a flickr or facebook site.

    I put coins in the meter one night; didn’t work, and since it was night the meter police couldn’t see the “fail” on the meter. They left me a ticket (as I thought they would) and dismissed the ticket (as I fought so they would) when I gave them a copy of the photo with the date/time stamp.

    Something about parking meters and parking tickets …


  • Chris J

    Yah, so people are used to doing one thing but have a hard time adapting to change. The minimum payment is 35c now, right? I’d rather put in $1 whatever than pay the fee for a ticket.

    Adapt, Berkeley. See the change. Or ride your bikes and be done.

  • nickle

    Positive outcome to a totally retarded decision by the parking enforcement bureaucrats.

  • jubrele

    When I encountered the minimums, I really got hosed because I didn’t have another coin on me. So when I figured out I needed to meet a minimum, I went and fetched another coin out of my car like a good obedient citizen, went back to the meter and inserted the coin only to find that i once again had not met the minimum because the meter had apparently timed out and taken my earlier coin and reset itself. That – was really lame. I once again had to go to the car and get another coin, and even though I rushed, the meter still reset on me and ate another one of my coins. So in the end I paid more than the minimum, but got no time on my meter and took my chances. So I’m glad for this change back to no minimums.

  • Truth Sayer

    When events like you describe happen to me, I just go home, :-)

  • Truth Sayer

    As EBGuy stated, “I don’t think you understand the problem.” Conventional wisdom in most cities throughout the U.S. is that a quarter will register time on a parking meter. The average person would thing that the meter is broken rather than continue to put coins in the meter. Truth be told, most of us are not “Dudley Do-Righs;” keeping change in our vehicles and assume that a quarter in a meter is insufficient. Simply put, parking meter regulations should should be simple to understand, as well as not overburdening to drive shoppers away from nearby businesses.

  • Truth Sayer

    Your statement says it all!

  • Completely_Serious


    City instituted policy to nickel and quarter parkers.
    City screwed up implementation.
    City fixed its screw up.
    City congratulates itself.
    Parkers now blessed with being nickeled and dimed.

  • BrianY

    So who do I talk to about getting a refund on that $41 ticket I got after I put a quarter in a meter, it didn’t register, and I assumed it was broken? :/