Park easy

The best practice in parking ticket prevention? Common sense. Here’s how to avoid the fees and the fuss

By Jim Gorzelany CTW Features

With cash-strapped cities desperately looking for ways to raise funds without hiking taxes, it’s no surprise that parking — especially parking enforcement — has become a major source of revenue.

With an estimated population of just 617,996, Washington, D.C. raised a whopping $92.6 million in revenue by issuing 1.6 million parking tickets during the 2011 fiscal year according to AAA Mid-Atlantic in Wilmington, Del. That’s an average of nearly six written per minute and 2.6 tickets per resident. “If the city were to stack the amount of parking fines collected in single dollar bills, it would nearly reach to the average altitude that a commercial airliner flies above the surface of the Earth,” says the AAA’s John B. Townsend II.

Though habitual scofflaws may not want to hear it, “Ticketing isn’t designed to be punitive. It’s about fairness and turnover,” explains Isaiah Mouw, general manager of Republic Parking System in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Successful downtowns depend on available parking to allow customers to patronize shops and restaurants and get where they want to go.” So short of taking public transportation, walking or biking to a given destination (all terrific alternatives, by the way), how can motorists — already in competition for what is becoming in many areas a dwindling supply of spaces — avoid parking tickets? Here are a few tips courtesy of the International Parking Institute in Fredericksburg, Va.:

 Pay the meter. This is a no brainer, but it’s surprising how many motorists think they can simply switch on their cars’ flashers for a quick run in and out of a store or office to save a couple of quarters. If anything, the flashing lights will attract a parking enforcement officer.

 Pay electronically. A growing number of cities are allowing motorists to pay for street parking by credit or debit card or via mobile smartphone apps. A bonus is that mobile apps are often able to send a text alert when your allotted time is about to expire.

 Carry quarters. The classic coin-op meter still prevails, especially in smaller cities and in suburbs, so it’s prudent to carry a roll of quarters in the glove box for when the need arises.

 Find a garage. If you’ll be leaving the car for an extended period, it may be a better deal to park in a nearby garage at the hourly or daily rate. It will certainly cost less than having to pay the cost of a parking ticket in case you don’t make it back to feed the meter in time.

 Heed the signs. Always check for “no parking” signs and/or curb markings before leaving your car. In some areas parking may be prohibited at certain hours or on specific days, and signs to that effect may be posted erratically. Also ensure the car isn’t occupying a handicapped zone or is within a ticket-worthy distance from a fire hydrant or crosswalk.

Never hesitate to appeal a parking ticket — some cities allow you to do this by mail. Explain the circumstances and include a photo that helps state your case. Some municipalities can get dicey about issuing tickets for obscure violations or for parking in restricted areas that are not well marked and may cut you some slack.

If you’re a habitual violator, take advantage of any amnesty or payment program your city may have in effect that can eliminate or at least reduce your indebtedness without incurring further penalties. Some cities have zero tolerance for scofflaws. In Chicago, for example, it takes only three unpaid parking tickets to be eligible for the dreaded Denver boot and subsequent towing to an auto pound.

© CTW Features