Point of View

Warnings, Boneheads, and ‘When Will They Ever Learn …’

October, 2012

John Van Horn

A few years back, I started a major discussion over issuing warnings vs. slamming every violation with a citation, no matter what.  Here’s what I thought cities should do:

Issue a warning for minor infractions (over-stay a meter, nose a foot across a driveway, park in a delivery zone, etc.) for the first infraction. After that, issue a citation. For major infractions (fire hydrant, parking in red, blocking driveway, any safety issue) slam ’em.

I didn’t understand why this was such a big deal, but a reader in New Zealand unloaded on me, telling me that you can’t change behavior with a carrot; you need to wield a big stick. Many enforcement folks agreed. They thought I was naïve, and that all it would lead to was more infractions and chaos.

Well, the Kiwis have come through, and at least in one city, proven me correct.  In the city of Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand, the enforcement staff is writing about 15% fewer tickets, but it’s not because they are writing so many warnings. It’s because after receiving a warning, people have a tendency to follow the rules.

Council Development Services Manager Kevin Thompson told the Otago Daily Times that he was “more than comfortable” with the outcome, despite the financial result.

“Our aim is to get compliance, by warning someone first, rather than just issuing a ticket. … The revenue has dropped … but, as I’ve always said, it’s not how much money we’re making.”

The change had been “very favorably” received, as most motorists were happy to comply and avoid a ticket, he said. “If they’re asked to move, we would say 95%, if not more, moved.”

Thompson denied that the new approach encouraged motorists to push the limits, saying that was not supported by public feedback. The lenient approach applied to motorists committing minor infringements, such as parking on a bus stop or an authorized vehicle park, the newspaper reported.

Plus, think of the PR. People talk about getting warnings, just as they talk about getting tickets. The word spreads quickly. I love the quote: “Our aim is to get compliance, by warning someone first, rather than just issuing a ticket.”

And you know, in this case, I think he means it.


Over on my PT Blog, I propose nominees for the “Baghdad by the Bay” award for boneheaded parking activities. I am tempted to give the award to the city of Pasadena, CA.

A particular residential street in Pasadena has been covered with parking tickets because it has a two-hour limit on parking. According to the city, the limit has been there for 40 years or more.  The city writes hundreds of tickets, and the residents complain.

Finally, one resident took it upon himself to ask the city why there was a two- hour limit. The answer was, basically,  “We don’t know.”  The resident was told he needed a petition to change the rule. That took one weekend. The rule was changed, and the signs came down a week later.

And you wonder why parking has such a bad rep.  If the city notices (well, that’s the first problem) that a inordinate number of citations are being written in a certain area, wouldn’t it be a good idea to take a look and find out why? Maybe there is a good reason. Maybe the residents want the citations to move along interlopers. Maybe the neighborhood is near a school or hospital and … well, you know.

Rather that take a look, the city simply soldiered on, writing tickets and collecting money. The regulations were doing nothing to assist in protecting the parking asset, nothing to help the people in the neighborhood, doing nothing except ticking off the residents in the area and generating big bucks for the city (at $50 a pop).

OK, maybe this is small potatoes for a big-time award like the “Baghdad by the Bay,” but the city of the Rose Parade may deserve an honorable mention.

What does it take to review where tickets are written and why?  My guess is that you could call a meeting of your enforcement staff, and in 10 minutes, you could have a list of areas to review and be able to make some friends in the citizenry.


Remove parking meters, spur business – not! I don’t know of a place on the planet where removing parking meters (or parking charges) has increased local business. Let’s see, I pay to park at a local mall in LA, in fact, at three of the malls I frequent. Is it the parking that attracts me to the mall? I don’t think so.

It’s the stores, shops, street scene, clubs, restaurants, concerts, movie theaters, buskers and the rest. “If you build it, [they] will come,” and it’s more than a line in a movie.

The city of Santa Monica, CA, had basically free parking in the six structures in its downtown area. And the place was dead. Now they have revitalized the area with a walking mall, new stores, great entertainment and, frankly, it’s a fun place to visit. They charge in the city garages now, and people line up to pay.

However, in the Wilmington and San Pedro areas of LA, the merchants are sure that those parking meters keep people away. I don’t know those areas very well, but I am certain there will not be a bump in revenue when the meters are gone.  The merchant’s employees will be happy, because they can park out front without having to feed a meter.  If having to pay a couple of bucks to park keeps people from shopping, then there isn’t much to shop for.

Those merchants need to look inward and find solutions to their lack-of-customers problems. People need a reason to come to an area that is more than buying something in a store. People like to walk, look, see and be seen. They like to sit in the shade and watch the passing scene. Then, they will also look in windows, see something they like, and voila … a sale. Parking has nothing to do with it.

“When will they ever learn …” It’s more than a folksong.

John Van Horn is Editor of Parking Today. Contact him at jvh@parkingtoday.com.