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Point of View

‘Cars Get Tickets, People Don’t Get Tickets’

John Van Horn

I just can’t figure out why our industry does such a poor job of public relations, but we do. Here’s the latest. Steve Lopez, a columnist in the Los Angeles Times, wrote about an incident that took place last month in L.A.
A man and his wife were visiting their lawyer. She is severely and obviously disabled. They couldn’t find a handicapped space, so he stopped in a no-parking zone in front of the building to let her out. The parking enforcement officer drove up behind them, honked and told them to move. They tried to explain. He yelled at them. The woman burst into tears. Result: a $70 parking ticket.
The columnist knew his task. Take half the column to describe the poor woman who had been fighting for years simply to stay alive (she had many medical problems, most terminal) and then go on to describe the three minutes of activity of the parking officer in the only light that could possibly be seen – that of an uncaring ogre who yells at dying, crying, helpless women.
Wow, let’s face it: Lopez is good, really good. And the parking industry is a bunch of uncaring dolts who can’t think for themselves.
So Lopez was able to find one high-profile case where the downtrodden were under the jackboot of the parking industry. I have one question? Did he try to find any cases where folks weren’t ticketed, or were given a “pass” for whatever reason?
He says he went out to the area and waited around for a parking enforcement officer. He notes that people were breaking the law all over the place, and no one got tickets. Some experts say that 90% of all parking violations go unticketed. Lopez must have missed that fact when he did his research.
Nuff about that – my problem is that the columnist is correct. This is one area where the training of our parking officers could be better. The head of enforcement (or whoever) from the city of Los Angeles fumbled his way through an excuse, and then noted that this will be an object lesson in their next training program.
Wow! Next training program. An object lesson. What will be the lesson? Should they wait until the car is empty before writing the ticket? Should they ignore such situations? Should they be “nicer” when they start writing? Maybe only one “honk” of the horn to try to get an occupied car in a no-parking zone to move?
How about this: Give parking enforcement officers the flexibility to not write tickets when there is an obvious issue, such as this one. They can write “warnings” that spell out the problems and possible fines, and these warnings can be kept on file. If a person gets more than so many, they can then be fined.
In this case, the officer could have parked behind the offender, gotten off his butt and spoken to the driver. Once he found out what the problem was, he could have helped the woman out of the car so the husband could have moved off quickly. Instead, he made the situation worse, blocked traffic and caused a “scene.”
Oh, one more thing. I wonder about these two doctors (driver and passenger) in the car. What were they thinking? They drove into the building’s parking lot and looked for (I assume) a free handicapped parking space and finding none, they drove past probably a dozen pay spaces, went out front and parked in the red to unload. Why couldn’t they drive up next to the elevator or building entrance in the parking area, unload, have the woman wait there, park the car, and then proceed? I must have missed that part of the process. Of course, Lopez, having an “anti-parking” agenda, didn’t ask any of those questions either.
I have the greatest sympathy for the wife, and understand that they were on a very difficult mission (the signing of her will). However, until Steve Lopez got into the act, no one else in the process knew this background. Nevertheless, I have to side with the driver on this one.
We need to build flexibility into our enforcement and we need to train our officers in a bit of customer relations and service. Houston is doing this; the rest of the country needs to get on board.
Oh, I think the comment by the officer is classic: “Cars get tickets, people don’t get tickets.” I wonder who taught him that little tidbit. Is that part of the training program in L.A.?
***
It’s Casablanca in San Francisco – Just as Capt. Renault (Claude Raines) was shocked – shocked – to find gambling at Rick’s, as he was handed his winnings, the supervisors in San Francisco are “shocked” to find that money from parking meters isn’t getting into the city’s coffers.
I have written extensively about these issues in PT’s Blog. My concern here is that only now are the city fathers in S.F. beginning to realize that they have a problem with their parking.
For years it has been known in the parking industry that San Francisco (and other major cities) has a problem accounting for revenue. The city’s off-street lots have under-reported income to dodge the 20% parking tax.
Did you know that there are parking locations in the city that the government doesn’t even know exist? Welcome to San
Francisco.
It is shocking, but certainly not surprising. A few years ago, the city tried to get revenue control equipment certified so they could understand how much money was being collected. They proceeded to muck up the process so badly that the plan had to be abandoned. The replacement law is embraced by the operators, who are laughing all the way to the bank.
The problem in “Baghdad by the Bay,” as in most cities, is that no one cares. Parking is that weird uncle we keep locked in the attic. Don’t talk about it and maybe it will go away. Cities such as New York and Los Angeles have millions in uncollected fines and taxes.
One of the auditors in San Francisco told me that, frankly, he saw no problem. He was adding two people to his staff to handle audits of the more than 600 parking garages in the city. Asked whether these were parking experts, he said: “No, they were seasoned veterans of the audit and could do the job well.” Heh. The operators are rolling on the floor.
Don’t get me wrong. The majority of operators in S.F. do the best they can and pay their taxes. They just know that it is basically a voluntary payment. The city is unable or unwilling to enforce the law. When I talk to them about it, they just shake their heads. One operator told me that the city had no clue how to audit an open, valet or honor box lot.
The latest is that San Francisco isn’t getting all the money it should from its meters. The revenue is off by at least half, maybe more. This is in a city were there are no empty spaces anywhere at any time.
Watch this space. I am aware of other happenings in cable car land that will hit the headlines soon. When they do, they will create more than “shocked” supervisors.

Article Abstract from March, 2007




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