I NEVER KNEW how hard it was to park a scooter in Philly until my colleague Leah Kauffman told me about the four tickets she got for parking her cream-colored Honda Metropolitan on the sidewalk - one in Society Hill and three in Center City.
"I love my scooter," says Kauffman, a producer for Philly.com. She says that purring through the city on her Metropolitan has made her love Philly even more than when she traversed it on her bicycle (which was stolen).
"It's more comfortable than a bike, but you still get to be in the fresh air. It even has a cupholder for my morning coffee! It's the most pleasurable experience."
Plus it's cheap. Kauffman's ride gets 117 miles per gallon; she spends about $3 every other week to top off the tank.
So, oh, how it stung to get those tickets, at $76 a pop, for parking on the sidewalk.
Kauffman doesn't deny she did it. She just didn't know it was illegal to do so. Hell, the Philadelphia Parking Authority's own website was cagey about it. I'll explain that in a sec.
For the record, Pennsylvania law forbids the parking of any motorized vehicle on the sidewalk, whether it's a 15-ton garbage truck or Kauffman's 49cc ride. Which seems like a stupidly broad law for scooter riders.
But the law is the law. So scooter riders (and motorcycle riders, for that matter) have always been welcome to park at the curb. But they complain, rightly so, that their two-wheelers are vulnerable there, since even a light tap from a driver squeezing into a space can do serious damage.
That's why scooter riders tend to park on the sidewalk, at bike racks, or up against a wall. That's led to complaints over the years from store owners, pram-pushing parents, the wheelchair-dependent and others who need clear sidewalk passage.
In response, in 2010 the PPA began to establish marked-off parking areas to accommodate motorcycles and scooters in Center City. In the white-metered zones, the cost is half the prevailing parking fee.
As for parking outside the zones, the PPA website was cagey. It read: "Once a motorcycle zone has been established on a block, the prohibition in sidewalk parking will be strictly enforced in the vicinity of that zone."
Does that mean the prohibition won't be strictly enforced outside the vicinity? And what comprises "vicinity"? A city block? The distance between two Rite Aids?
Since the zones are located only in Center City, aren't scooter riders in other congested areas - such as Fishtown or South Philly - screwed out of nonsidewalk parking options? Would they be fined for parking their scooters even in front of their own homes?
PPA spokesman Marty O'Rourke says that, thanks to my call for clarification, the PPA web page has been updated to reiterate the state law: No motorized vehicles on the sidewalk, period. And gone is any reference to "vicinity." But that means gone, too, is the chance for reasonableness, no matter how willy-nilly it was once meted out.
On Kauffman's first ticket, for example, the officer wrote that the scooter was "not against the wall; not on a bike rack," implying that she should have chosen a wall or rack option. When she asked, via Twitter, for confirmation, PPA tweeted back that she could park only at bike racks located at the curb line that hold more than one bike.
Her subsequent three tickets - all written by Philly police officers, not PPA officers - were at just such bike racks.
After that, whenever Kauffman spotted a PPA officer, she asked about the scooter policy.
"An officer at 10th and South told me that the PPA does not ticket scooters unless the owner of a business calls and complains," says Kauffman. "An officer in Old City told me that I can park on the sidewalk as long as I have permission from the owner of the property. Well, how would the PPA know whether or not I have approval?"
And when Kauffman called the PPA to schedule a hearing for the tickets, she was told she shouldn't have been ticketed at all, since scooters are allowed to park on the sidewalk.
You know what I think? I think the PPA gets how dumb the state law is and wants to be reasonable. But the agency uses a whisper-down-the-lane approach to rule-bending, which is just as dumb. And it has cost Kauffman $304 - four times her monthly scooter payment.
The only answer is to amend state law (are you listening, Philly senators and state reps?) so towns like ours can craft sane parking policies for scooters, which are vehicles we should be embracing.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency and AAA, if U.S. cities were more scooter-friendly, America could save almost 4 billion gallons of gas annually by 2020.
That would reduce our dependence on foreign oil to just $21.4 billion per year - without lightening the wallets of a single Philly scooter owner.
On Twitter: @RonniePhilly