Is Parking Enforcement the “Canary in the Coal Mine?”

A blogger I read regularly posited that inconsistent parking enforcement will bring a downhill slide to a city. Wow! You can read that blog over at parknews.biz, War on Standards Parking Ticket Edition.

The city in question was Washington DC. Seems the Washington Post has done a study that purports that a high percentage of parking tickets and the resulting fines are in minority neighborhoods and this reflects a tendency of the city to discriminate against minorities. The blogger disagrees.

He feels that, as the Post article indicates, the city is generating revenue from parking tickets and simply writes as many tickets as possible. He doesn’t see that the city is discriminating, but is simply maximizing revenue. He goes on:

The only incentive these men and women have is to give out as many tickets as possible, so as to maximize city revenue. As one of the Post’s sources, a leading critic of parking and traffic enforcement, says, “their job is only to bring in revenue.” Thus, in all likelihood, they mostly patrol areas where violations tend to occur.

The predominately White area from Dupont Circle through Georgetown is, in my experience, heavily patrolled for parking violations. Pre-pandemic, I always understood that leaving my car there for much more than the permitted time was a risky proposition.

The same is true, I assume, in Black neighborhoods in which experience has shown there are likely to be lots of parking violations. It’s not a question of bias or discrimination, it’s all about finding violations.

He goes on:

You can’t have an effective traffic enforcement system that doesn’t punish non-compliance. But poor families can avoid punishment by (1) obeying the law or (2) paying their tickets on time. If one can afford to own, gas-up, and maintain a car, one can afford to pay a parking ticket. It’s only when offenders violate the rules repeatedly or refuse to pay the initial ticket that hardship may arise. (Emphasis mine).

His conclusion is that if the city adjusts its ticket writing policies and by doing so cuts its revenue stream, that stream will be made up from other areas and the cost of living in the city will increase to the point that people will begin to move out, and the city will descend into a dystopian disaster.

I think he may have missed an important point here. Is the problem that the city is losing revenue by ‘adjusting’ parking enforcement, or is the problem that the city is relying on parking revenue to fund its normal city functions.

We so often hear about using enforcement to change the way people act, and that enforcement being heavy fines. I have wondered if the problem may be one of education, how the enforcement is done, and in the end, just how the public views parking in general.

I’m reaching my self imposed limit for a blog (500 or so words) so I’m going to wrap this up, but look to future posts for a reprise of some controversial ideas as to how DC and other communities could possibly alter their citizen’s parking activity, so that it more closely met with the rules set forth to protect not only the citizens but also this most important civic asset.

While I’m posing some alternatives, consider that parking, enforcement, fines and their payment, may be a harbinger of other more serious issues in a city, rather like Giuliani’s “broken window” and graffiti abatement campaign showed in New York.

Are we a canary in a coal mine?





Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Is Parking Enforcement the “Canary in the Coal Mine?”

  1. Clyde Wilson says:

    When I see the lead that states the city is writing as many tickets as possible to generate more money, I become concerned. When a ticket spitter issues a ticket, we expect it to be paid before the car exits. If you park on street with a meter, we expect you to pay the meter. In the garage, the penalty is, you can’t get out until you pay, on the street you get a ticket. You are expected to pay the meter or pay the ticket. It is not writing as many tickets as possible it is just simply doing our job. In the parking business, we sell a parking space for time, the job is to get the tickets on the cars and the money in the bank. The city is in the parking business.
    Before you start addressing a problem it is always better to understand the root of the event. In the case of on-street paid parking we go to Mr. Shoup. Free parking and readily available free parking encourages more cars. Charging and tickets is about enforcement of the space. Stop writing tickets and people stop paying the meter. If they stop paying and enforcement stops then the argument becomes, the streets are full and nowhere to park. This has nothing to do with being a minority issue or the city just trying to grab money.
    Building and providing parking costs money, if you build it people come, if they come at some point you have to control it. Building it and controlling it costs the city money. If we do not use enforcement to cause payment, then I can’t find a parking place. So, write as many tickets as possible please and in all neighborhoods.

  2. rta says:

    Enforcement should be across the board and consistent, it should also be allocated based on needs (heaviest coverage where most violations occur). Cities should also be using the data from those violations to make the necessary adjustments to their parking management plan so the violations decrease and compliance with the program rules increases.

    When Cities start relying on violation income for funding it is easy to understand how the public perception becomes more and more negative towards the enforcement.

  3. Parking Enforcement should be fair and unbiased, but also strategic. If all streets are patrolled equally and it happens so that more tickets are consistently issued in minority areas, then that should be cause for concern; however that concern is not for the city’s parking department to solve. That is an issue that should be handled by perhaps the housing authority, or whomever oversees social equity. Perhaps certain parking zones are given a (low-income) designation of some sort and it decreases the penalty for fines in those zones. For example, a $50 parking ticket has less impact in Georgetown than say Anacostia.

    Rules are rules and everyone should accept responsibility for their actions, but there are times especially when you do not have surplus income where you have to take risks. It is easy to say “if you can afford a car, insurance, gas…you can afford the fine” but many people can not afford a car, but do not have a choice but to own one in order to get to work, daycare etc.

    Back to the author’s question, is Parking Enforcement the Canary in the Coal Mine? If no other Canaries exist, than yes it can be, however, if a city is at a point where they are relying on Parking Data to bring to light socioeconomic inequities then I’m afraid they have already failed.

  4. L says:

    I think we all agree that there are some concerns with this situation, especially if your primary motivation is generating revenue.

    I’d like to point a few concerns:

    1st- We cannot make factual statements about our ‘assumptions’ (“The same is true, I assume, in Black neighborhoods…”)

    2nd- Neighborhood enforcement and the type of violations issued, is different from enforcement in business districts; parking spaces aren’t usually being sold for time.

    3rd- If we focus the heaviest coverage where the most violations occur, this area will always have the most violations, because it has the heaviest coverage. What factors should govern greater need? More autos owned in this neighborhood? More homes in this neighborhood? Greater population in this neighborhood? More businesses in this neighborhood, causing greater need for short term parking? Getting this right/wrong impacts the outcome.

    This may or may not be a canary in the coal mine, but it should certainly be a ‘red flag’ that prompts more investigation? It is apparent that the enforcement effort is not yielding the desired result- changing behavior. Why isn’t it? and what can be done to change this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.