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October 28, 2012 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Why does the city ignore the possibility to write lots of easy parking tickets?

I park three days a week in the east campus area of my university, which is a very student-centered area (almost all the houses are broken into apartments, almost all the residents are college students, there are several frat houses). My town is about 50,000 people in the Midwest, with a large state university that is the main employer in town. Every day I park in this area (which is city property, not university property), I witness the same parking violations. Some are flagrant (parking in front of a fire hydrant, parking in all yellow, parking on the sidewalk, parking on a strip that is clearly marked No Parking). Some are very minor (two wheels in yellow, two wheels past the No Parking signs, parking slightly into a driveway without actually blocking it). I notice that these violations are in the same places every time and the cars are parked there all day (not just for an hour or so).

I have called the fire marshal for the fire hydrant issue (I don't want anyone to die), but even when they say they are going out to check, the same cars park in front of the same hydrants week after week. The only call I made that seems to have changed any behaviors was when I called about a poor kid in a wheelchair who couldn't go along the sidewalk because there were cars parked on it. After that complaint, I haven't seen any cars on that particular sidewalk.

So my question is: why doesn't the city go after this low-hanging fruit? They could easily make $200-$500 a day in tickets ($10-$50 a ticket/at least 10 violations in my three block radius). It's not a manpower issue, because I see the city parking people drive by at least twice a day and ignore these violations. Could it be a town-gown issue, where the city has elected to ignore these violations to keep the peace? Or is it more expensive to write a ticket than it is to get the money? Why would a city have parking regulations and then not enforce them?

PS: I realize part of my concern comes from being annoyed that these kids park illegally while I drive around like an idiot trying to find a legit space. If your response is that I should take a Xanax and chill out, then I already realize that.
posted by mrfuga0 to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When I worked for a mid-sized city parking enforcement was concentrated in certain high-traffic areas, areas the mayor ordered them into, and areas city council members requested they go to. After a complaint from a resident I would write a letter to parking enforcement describing the poblem and requesting enforcement. They usually complied and the problem went away.

I ran into a problem near our colleges and universities. Campus police agree to policing the neighborhoods surrounding their school. So, if I were you I would write the mayor, the council member who represents the campus area, and talk to campus police.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:41 PM on October 28, 2012

It depends on the city, and also where the money goes. If the parking enforcement cost (salaries, equipment, etc.) comes from gas taxes and the fines go to a safety fund, I can just about guarantee that is your answer. But there are lots of different factors - tell me the city and I have a better shot at sorting it out.
posted by SMPA at 7:41 PM on October 28, 2012

Consider that a lot of the cost of enforcing these laws comes AFTER the ticket is issued; perhaps parking enforcement has been told that small fines cost the city more in court costs than they would collect, should the ticket be challenged, which is likely if the city doesn't tack court costs onto fines for unsuccessful challenges. Or perhaps traffic court is overloaded already, so they don't want to risk filling it up even more.

Or the enforcement officers just aren't incentivized to write tickets and would rather stay in their cars, letting the small stuff go.
posted by supercres at 7:42 PM on October 28, 2012

The city is Columbia, Missouri and the area in question is the east side of the main campus (Wilson, Rollins, East Campus Loop, College).

Also, supercre, there seem to be specific parking ticket people that do this work, not just cops. That's the part that confused me. They drive around all day enforcing violations like parking, garbage issues, etc.
posted by mrfuga0 at 7:52 PM on October 28, 2012

If it's specific people, the team is smaller than you think and they are covering the entire Council area (at least that's my experience here in Oz). They have rounds and routes and respond to letters sometimes, but they have areas they patrol in a sort of a round.

And don't forget, it could also be that every time Person X is fined for parking two wheels over, or even completely over, they go to their local member and kick up a storm and then that member has a go at parking about their 'heartlessness' and their 'greed' for fining students who weren't doing any harm at all...
posted by geek anachronism at 8:10 PM on October 28, 2012

Live in a city where the parking is enforced like the city makes all their money on it and you won't be asking this. I literally got a ticket in the 30 seconds it took to run inside and get a quarter from my mom.

In your case, I'd say they have a more profitable area they go to. Perhaps tickets issued to students don't get paid fast (students are usually broke after all). Or there's a business/downtown area where they can write more tickets / the fine is higher / people have the money and just pay instead of fighting.

Parking around an urban/suburban university is always a nightmare. Do they have lots? Perhaps you could get a parking pass - they're usually pretty cheap and then you don't have to fight for limited street parking.

Also some of what you note as being violations aren't -- for example, parking mostly on one side of a side with your wheels on the other side, as long as a certain part of the car is on the legal side of the sign is enough in the zone. The only thing that is illegal is the fire hydrant.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:15 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and here it is a separate division that enforces parking, although cops can also write tickets. They have specific routes that they enforce.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:17 PM on October 28, 2012

I'm not saying this from experience or anything, but there are a lot of college students who don't pay parking tickets because it isn't worth municipalities' time to "enforce" them. Eventually, the municipalities (especially college towns) realize this, and a sort of detente is reached where parking a little bit over a driveway is excused in favor of going after the guy who leaves his car on someone's front porch.
posted by Etrigan at 8:55 PM on October 28, 2012

I think this is probably an issue of chilling out a bit. I know it's infuriating when you are doing your best to comply with the laws and be a considerate community member, but unless someone is illegally in a handicap space or parking in a way that prevents access for disbabled folks, I'd probably let it go. I get the whole hydrant thing, my childhood home has a hydrant in front of it, but most fire departments can access those hydrants with their hoses even if someone is parked too close to the hydrant. If you see a chronic offender, however, feel free to report away. Basically, I'd weigh whether the aggravation this causes you is worth it, and if it's not, try to focus on other things that are more in your control. Also, a polite and cheery note, along the lines of "I don't know if you realize this or not," could go a long way to making drivers steer clear of a particular space.
posted by katemcd at 9:24 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went to school at Mizzou and lived in Columbia (which is closer to 100k in population) for 9 years. The parking enforcement difference between the city and campus is night and day. Campus parking is enforced by an army of cheap student labor. Outside of campus, it's much more lax, so students go off-campus to park illegally. I agree that it could be easy revenue for the city, but I'm not sure why they don't enforce even obvious violations.
posted by zsazsa at 9:30 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's also the possibility of collusion between the ticket writers and the offenders, although admittedly that's less likely when --- as in this case --- there are a lot of offenders, not just a few. (My own town has a 72-hour limit on street parking, but a couple years ago it took me FIVE MONTHS to get three never-moved dump trucks parked here in my residential neighborhood to be ticketed: gee, what a surprise, the ticket writer was a cousin of the trucks' owner's wife.....)

Go ahead and phone your mayor and city council, but also WRITE to them about this. Email is fine, you just want to get the details in writing. Copy those emails to everyone involved: yes the mayor and city council, the city manager, chief of police and/or sherriff, and the city traffic control department. Oh yeah: copy your local newspaper and tv news. You could also include photos (dated and time stamped!) of the worst offenders.

Unlike katemcd, I would NOT let this go, nor would I bother with polite little notes to the offending drivers --- they are surely aware of things like the fire hydrants and still choose to block them, plus it's extremely UNlikely that cheerful little notes will do more than add litter to the problems already on those streets.
posted by easily confused at 2:18 AM on October 29, 2012

Maybe the city found that collection from students cost more money to enforce than it brought in?
posted by scruss at 4:23 AM on October 29, 2012

...annoyed that these kids park illegally while I drive around like an idiot trying to find a legit space.

Will you feel better if both they and you have to drive around like idiots for even longer, and walk further? Perhaps the lax enforcement is an acknowledgement that there simply isn't enough space for all the cars to park legally?
posted by jon1270 at 4:45 AM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

How important is the college itself to the city economy? Perhaps the city doesn't want to piss-off its cash-cow for the sake of parking fines?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:16 AM on October 29, 2012

One word: Students. Many with out of state plates and licenses. So unless enforcement includes towing the city has very little chance on collecting the fines.
posted by Gungho at 7:39 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Write a letter to your alderman or the Mayor or Common Council explaining the situation with as many details as you can collect. Maps and pictures help. Phone calls like that typically either get addressed quickly or not at all.
posted by JJ86 at 7:55 AM on October 29, 2012

It looks to me like there's been a huge increase in parking tickets issued - at least for 2011 over the previous 10 years. The fines for almost all your violations are very, very low; you'd have to have a guaranteed source of probably 15 cars an hour (at $15 a violation) to recover the costs of paying an enforcement officer, processing the ticket, collecting the fine, etc. - especially because every protest gets back a written response, and because the Public Works department has a far more resource-intensive operation going in terms of parking garages and metered spaces downtown.

Columbia seems to make about $2 million a year on "fines;" I'm having trouble tracking down any composition of the fines to see how much is made up of parking versus criminal and other civil penalties. To put that into context, the total transportation expenditure for 2011 appears to be $7.8 million.

Oh, and in 2011, parking enforcement had 4 employees. Parking Facilities (the folks who run the garages) had 7.85, meaning they split-fund some employees and presumably those employees don't work all their time on the facilities stuff.

(I will note in passing that it looks to me like in 2011, Public Works actually lost about $200,000 on parking.)
posted by SMPA at 8:16 PM on October 29, 2012

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