Y2K-Type Bug Hits New York City And Various Businesses 20 Years After Y2K
New York City’s 14,000 parking meters stopped accepting both credit cards and pre-paid parking cards on January 2nd, because the software running them was written to function only through January 1, 2020.
According to the NYC Department of Transportation, fixing the broken technology requires an in-person visit by its personnel to each and every meter; New York’s parking meters typically work on a one-per-block basis – and the 14,000 meters cover about 85,000 parking spaces around the city – meaning that the meters are not grouped closely together, and that the fix is no small task.
Ironically, the city has said that it will not, en masse, dismiss parking tickets issued to people who did not pay for parking as a result of the meter failures; the meters, the city argues, never lost their ability to accept coins as payment, nor to accept payment via the ParkNYC.org app.
Personally, I find the city’s behavior appalling – the meters stopped working properly because of the city’s mismanagement (some might even describe the city’s lack of oversight in this regard as gross negligence). Furthermore, parking in NYC often costs several dollars for the first hour, and many people – especially men – do not carry enough change to sufficiently feed a meter for any reasonable period of parking. People also cannot be expected to install a particular app to pay for parking ex post facto. Additionally, the city advertises that it accepts credit cards at parking meters – ticketing people who rely on the truth of such a claim would seem to be a form of fraud on the part of the city. I will leave it to the lawyers who will inevitably be taking up related cases to fight those battles.
As far as the actual bug – one would have thought that a major city would have been better prepared – the need to ensure that software does not stop properly functioning on a particular date is well known, and billions of dollars were spent addressing bugs of that sort prior to the year 2000. (Contrary to what some have argued, the so-called “Y2K bug” was quite real – had it not been addressed as it was, many computer systems would have, in fact, failed as 1999 became 2000. Dismissing the severity of the Y2K problem because only a few significant failures actually occurred after billions of dollars were spent on fixes is no less silly than arguing that a cancer patient did not need radiation and chemotherapy if he or she recovers after radiation and chemotherapy.)
Interestingly, the failure this week in NYC was not unique. I was in a restaurant on New Years’ Eve in which I witnessed the restaurant’s entire computer system go down – which, according to multiple employees present, had never happened before. Likewise, I have heard reports from multiple friends about their witnessing failures of various other computer systems, some of which, ironically, may have failed because fixes made two decades prior for Y2K included various “end dates” of December 31, 2019 or January 1, 2020.
Of course, actual Y2K problems still creep up from time to time; in 2014, for example, the US military sent draft notices to over fourteen-thousand men in Pennsylvania who were born between 1893 and 1897. But, the New York case involves people being fined after a system failure, and involves software that was not properly maintained – not a delayed Y2K mess-up.
Of course, the presence of such bugs in a municipal system that generates about $5-Million in direct revenue for the city every week raises questions about the maintenance of the city’s computers in general – and as to whether cybersecurity vulnerabilities might also be present.
Let’s get these errors fixed – and not with software that stops functioning on January 1, 2030 or 2040.