John Kelly's Washington

D.C. parking meters are all for change, but banks aren't

By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 1, 2010

It's not every day that you laugh at a D.C. parking meter -- those heartless metal monoliths usually aren't all that amusing -- but I started guffawing last week after peering through the glass atop a meter to see how much time my 25 cents would buy: 7 1/2 minutes.

I don't think 7 1/2 minutes has been so expensive since Eliot Spitzer decided to order room service.

Well, what can you do? If you gotta park, you gotta park. And at least we can rest easy knowing that the money is going to a good cause: Marion Barry's girlfriends.

The recent increase in Washington parking fees necessitates having an ample supply of quarters at hand, especially if you're like the District's Elizabeth Blakeslee. She sells real estate and so flits around a lot, parking at a lot of meters.

"I stopped in the Bank of Georgetown at Wisconsin and K streets NW this afternoon and asked for a roll of quarters for a $10 bill," she wrote. "I was denied. The teller and another staffer said they only give rolls of quarters to depositors. How can this be? This is a bank, a governmentally chartered business, a place to exchange or deal with legal currency. What do you think?"

I think that sounds weird, but apparently it's true. I contacted the bank, which issued this statement: "Our branch practice is to make change and coin available to bank customers. We occasionally have provided a dollar or two in coin for non-customers for parking meter use."

A whole roll? No. The bank primarily serves commercial customers and isn't set up to handle walk-in traffic.

A spokesman at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation told me there is no federal regulation requiring a bank to make change for a non-customer. This sort of thing isn't totally unheard of. At some banks those change-counting machines are free for depositors, while non-depositors have to pony up a fee.

In the end, Elizabeth went to the PNC bank in the 1400 block of P Street NW. She keeps an account at PNC, though she doesn't think the tellers knew that. "I was cheerfully handed a roll of quarters for a ten dollar bill," she wrote. "No questions asked."

Perhaps free change will become like free gas station air: a thing of the past. I had to pump up some soft tires the other day and muttered under my breath as I fed three quarters into the machine.

Seventy-five cents for air! I used to think Coca-Cola was pretty slick, charging a buck for brown fizzy water, but the gas station guys have that beat. Of course this may be exactly the excuse I need to buy my own air compressor. I see them on sale at Sears for about $100. Let's see, after I've inflated my 133rd tire, I'll be making money.

Cox and bull

The death of a parent is incredibly sad and it doesn't get easier when it comes time to wrap up the estate. The mother of a friend of mine recently passed away, and one of the hardest parts of the ordeal was canceling Cox cable. He couldn't do it over the phone. He couldn't do it by fax. Cox told him he'd have to go in person to Franconia.

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