Most Parking Tickets Don’t Get Written
June, 2008I went for a walk with my master the other day. Just around the neighborhood. We watched a parking enforcement officer writing a ticket for a car parked in front of a fire hydrant.
It reminded me of the great scene in “Backdraft” where a fellow parked his Mercedes in front of the fire hydrant, so the firefighters simply broke out his windows and pulled the hoses through the car. Didn’t slow them down a bit.
But I digress.
As I watched this ticket being written, I began to wonder how many never get written. Consider the enforcement problem every city faces:
Thousands of cars park on the street every day (hundreds of thousands in larger cities). Most of them start out parking legally. At some point, however, many of them move into the illegal column. And most of those never get a ticket.
I attended a meeting of parking enforcement officers from across Australia in Hobart. My master was speaking on Professor Shoup’s market-based parking pricing. They were discussing ticket revenue, when one of the attendees spoke up and said:
“Let’s face it: 90% of the citations never get written.”
That started me thinking. We park at meters, in residential permit zones, and in “two-hour” limit zones all the time. In many cases, we overstay our welcome – and overstay the parking time, too. But nine out of ten times, there is no ticket on the car.
We are being trained by enforcement that we can probably “get by” with our scofflaw activity. This, of course, causes a lot of problems.
First, the reason for the parking rules simply goes away. If you try to generate turnover by placing a two-hour limit, there is no turnover. If you want to restrict who can park in an area, then you fail there, too. And, of course, revenue that should be collected (either in fines or in on-street parking charges) never gets collected. 90%? You do the numbers.
The enforcement folks say they are understaffed and can’t be everywhere at once. People who pay at meters often just overstay their time and would happily have paid an additional amount if there was a facility to do so. As for on-street permits, there usually is one lurking in the kitchen drawer of the person we are visiting, but we are too lazy to walk back down and put it on our dash.
We are fortunate we live in a time where technology can help solve all these problems, and be fair about it, too.
First of all, those places where you pay at meters. Pay-by-cellphone and pay-by-space solve the problems of not having change, or having to “adjust” the time and increase one’s payment. We have sundry ways to pay, and that means convenience to the parker. Most people don’t pay or overstay because they have little alternative. No one wants to walk into the local bodega and break a $20 so they can put 15 quarters in a meter, so we don’t.
But what about unmetered areas – the vast majority of parking spaces? We want to limit the amount of time a person parks, but if you think about it, chalking really doesn’t work. You chalk a car, and you start the meter then. The car may have been there three hours. If the car leaves five minutes before you drive by for the second time, it parked there five hours and didn’t get a citation. Chalking catches the unlucky, not all the problems. Automated systems make it more efficient, and you catch a few more, but the problem is still the same.
The real solution? Put a sensor in the street at each meter. It knows when the car arrived and can tell the enforcement officer just how long the car has been there. The ticket is written based on fact and reality, not a “good guess” by a fellow in a Cushman with a long stick.
These sensors also can give statistics about how long people park in the area. When they were installed in San Francisco in a test area, it was discovered that most people paid but the vast majority over-stayed the time they paid for. This means the rules that were set down to affect the traffic flow and turnover in the area weren’t working because they were being ignored.
Is this on-street issue really a PT the Auditor topic? It’s no different from enforcing contract parkers, checking cards that are “on or off” in a garage, or computing the parking fee correctly. Same problems, just a little different shape.