A meter reader is a utility employee who reads consumption meters for the purpose of billing. He or she may read gas, electric, and water meters, in addition to inspecting meters and utility boxes to confirm that they are in good condition, and checking for signs of tampering or fraud. There are no educational requirements for members of this profession, although most meter readers hold a high school diploma. The need for this profession is also on the decline, as many utilities have turned to automated systems which read meters remotely or read large numbers of meters via handheld units which communicate wirelessly, reducing the need for employees.
Every meter reader has a route which he or she follows. Many often complete large portions of their route on foot, driving to a central point and fanning out from their vehicles, so they need to be in good physical condition. They must also be willing to tolerate inclement weather, as meter readings are not canceled for things like rain. Each one carries a handheld device which is used to record meter data or to interface directly with meters to collect data.
At each household on the meter reader's route, he or she notes down the customer identification and the reading on the customer's meter. People in this position often face challenges like locked gates, hostile dogs, or inaccessible meters along their routes, although many utilities issue meter reading dates to their customers and ask them to plan ahead for their reading. If a meter cannot be read, the meter reader leaves an appointment card, asking to reschedule a date to read the meter.
Once the meter reader's route is finished, he or she returns to the office to submit the data to the billing department, and bills are issued. Because most utilities cover a large area, there are usually enough routes to keep readers busy every day. Many grow very familiar with their routes and they are able to complete them quickly.
Working as a meter reader requires a high degree of self discipline, because people in this position work alone in the field, without supervision. They may have varying degrees of interaction with the public, depending on when they set out on their routes and the communities they work in. Experienced meter readers may also periodically be asked to accompany trainees as they learn the process of meter reading and following a route.