Magazine

Point of View

SF, NYC, Jackson and ‘Three Little Words’

By John Van Horn

Periodically, on my Parking Today blog, I give a Baghdad by the Bay award to the organization that makes the most boneheaded parking decisions. Last month, it went to its namesake’s doppelganger, that city on the Hudson, New York, NY.
Get this. If you get a parking ticket in one of the Big Apple’s five boroughs, you simply have to contest it, either online, by mail or in person, and the city will reduce your fine about a third. Period.
No, that’s it. Just contest it, then plead guilty, and don’t ask for a hearing. Bribery? Well, of course. But there is another interesting tidbit. The city of Broadway, the Empire State Building and Wall Street hasn’t told anyone about the program. To find out, you have to go contest a ticket.
That bastion of truth and justice, The New York Times, got wind of this and broke the story. The stalwart reporters of the Old Gray Lady, while looking for work, did ask the city about the fact that no one knows about this program. The answer:
“Since this is offered to everyone universally, it was not as necessary” to publicize it, said Owen Stone, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Finance, which runs all parking ticket adjudication programs.
Let’s see if I can parse this for you. You get a parking ticket in NYC, whether you were wronged by the citation writer or not, you simply appeal through the “secret” program and get a one-third reduction in your parking ticket fee, automatically. Yep!
Oh, and you’ll love the photo that went with the story. It’s a picture of a car with a bunch of tickets on it and two flat tires. It must have been sitting there for weeks, collecting tickets.
Is the city nuts? Why leave the car there? After the second ticket, it would seem to me to be abandoned and therefore could be towed. There are towing services that would pay the city $50 to come and pick up the car. After all, if no one calls for it in a month, they can legally sell it. But not in NYC. It just sits there and parking enforcement officers sidle up and write another ticket. There had to be half a dozen on that car.
To add even more gold-leaf clusters on their award, there is a quote from a woman who has gotten “hundreds” of tickets since she has lived in the city. What’s this all about? A person can get “hundreds” of tickets. Doesn’t it reach a point where this becomes at least a felony? This person has single-handedly turned the NYC parking department into a monthly parking operation. It’s just that the fee varies each month, depending on how often she is caught. Well, I guess this is to be expected from a city that is outlawing and taxing fat in food.
Look out, San Francisco, NYC is catching up on being the capital of parking idiocy …
Check out the “Big Apple and Baghdad by the Bay” posting (Jan. 2) at the PT blog at www.parkingtoday.com. The history of this coveted award is there, plus links to the article about this winner.
***
Parking assessments – these are charges the city levies against businesses to cover the costs of providing parking in downtown areas. The city justifies the charges because of the expense of paving, marking, policing, snow removal and the like. The city of Jackson, MI, is in a tizzy over these little fees.
Merchants in a midtown area want customers. They feel that charging for parking on-street causes those customers to go elsewhere, so they lobby the city to provide free parking for their customers.
The city says, “Sure, we’ll provide ‘free’ parking, but someone has to pay.” So rather than charge everyone in the city, they charge the merchants an assessment to cover the costs.
The merchants then pass this assessment along to their customers as a higher cost for their goods and services, and suddenly the midtown merchants aren’t as competitive as those in the malls outside town.
Of course, everyone pays for the cost of parking, not just those who drive. Those who walk, take the bus or ride with someone else also pay for the parking assessment.
Plus, there’s another problem. There is no way, with “free” parking and a parking assessment, to regulate who parks where.
With “free” parking, the folks who work in stores and shops in the area simply park where they like, taking the best spaces. The visitors must “cruise” looking for parking and causing congestion.
The “free” parking causes traffic problems, angry customers and, frankly, decisions to shop elsewhere. Few make the decision to shop at the mall at the edge of town based on free parking. They go there because of good prices, selection and the “scene.” All of these could be available midtown.
Those Jackson merchants are asking the city to review the parking assessment, some claiming that it is a “tax” (of course, it is) and therefore illegal. The city is saying they will review it, but the program needs to be funded, and the “fee” must stay in place.
There is an alternative – charge for parking and have the money generated go back into the neighborhoods whence it came. Charge enough so that there is one empty space always available on each block face. Tell people that the parking charges are there for clean streets, better parks, new sidewalks and the like.
All would be right with the world.
(Be sure to check out our Resident Cynic, Melissa, in her “Amateur Parker” on Page 40 this month. She has a few choice words for parking charges, and her editor, moi.)
***
Three Little Words – no, not those three little words.
With all the doom and gloom we are hearing constantly about everything from the weather to Wall Street Ponzi schemes, how about a little perspective.
Correspondent Mark sent me this quote from Robert Frost, the great American poet: “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.”

Article Abstract from February, 2009




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