LET ME TAKE you inside the belly of the beast, the loathed and feared Philadelphia Parking Authority. (Be careful - it's dark and slimy in here.)
Like death and taxes, there is no guaranteed way to escape the clutches of PPA, but you can reduce your risk of a ticket, says a former Parking Enforcement Officer who is spilling the beans.
He spent several years pounding the pavement and considered himself to be one of the good "bad guys." He was then promoted to Parking Management Operations, where he was a meter mechanic, so his knowledge extends from the curb to the bowels of the PPA at 913 Filbert St.
"You get used to walking for seven hours, you get used to people driving by and yelling things at you," he says with a smile. "Most PEOs are mild, meek people," not like you saw on "Parking Wars."
For legal reasons, I won't give his name. For now, he'll be known as PPA-leaks.
PPA-leaks was very polite, even interrupting our chat to help a woman motorist baffled by a kiosk. When he was working, he was "a hammer," writing valid tickets.
He may seem like a disgruntled former employee, but I don't find him a hater. He's not anti-PPA. He's pro-civilian and says knowledge can help motorists avoid tickets, known to the PPA as TVRs - Traffic Violation Reports.
Cops were the original ticket-writers, until that job was assumed by PPA. "You need to regulate the craziness," he says. "Without PPA, parking would be even more insane than it is."
PPA-leaks is working on a book, or a manual, filled with dos and don'ts, which he may want to publish or post online someday, as an aid to motorists. He's trying to figure a way to make a buck off it and when he decides, I'll let you know.
Before the tips, we'll bury an urban legend, that PEOs have a "quota" to fill.
That's not true, PPA-leaks says, but what is true is that every day PPA "knows how many tickets are expected," on each beat from past experience. PPA keeps very good records. "There is no set number, but an expectation, he says, repeating what I have been told by other PEOs.
Here, for me and you, he's offering a lucky seven tips to avoid TVRs, which we call #@%+&!! tickets. His tips are based on PPA's own rules, not that PEOs always observe all of them, such as the grace periods - 2 minutes at an expired kiosk, 5 minutes for a metered spot, with, say, a two-hour limit. (It's less for kiosks because the receipt shows an exact time.)
* 1: Never put dollar bills in a kiosk. Never. A credit card is safest, followed by coins. "Kiosks are exposed to the weather," he says, and they contain paper, both the receipts and currency. The combination of rain or snow and paper turns the inside to mush. "Have you ever seen the inside of a kiosk?" he asks with a shudder.
While on the subject, if the kiosk closest to your car is out of service, you are required to find another one, that is working.
* If you pull up at a broken meter, don't bother leaving a note of explanation. You can park there for the allotted time shown on the sign or meter at no charge, according to the rules of the PPA.
* If you didn't pay money to park, you're probably doing something wrong. (This excludes residential permit parking areas and even loading zones that give you 20 or 30 minutes for free, plus Center City's free parking on Wednesday nights and the First Friday programs).
* PPA employs 15 staggered shifts around the clock. You can be ticketed at 3 a.m. "They are always watching," says PPA-leaks.
* When deciding to ticket, the PEO looks at the whole of your vehicle. If the majority of your car is parked in a legal zone, you won't be ticketed for the rear bumper that extends beyond it.
That's what the man says, even if I have trouble believing it.
* Ever hear of a recision? PEOs can quash a ticket (it still counts on their daily total) at a metered spot if you get to them before they finish writing the paper ticket or hit "print" on a hand-held device.
* It may sound self-serving, but he urges you to use a parking lot or garage if there is any question at all about how long you need to park. I know, you're thinking a couple of hours in a lot can cost $10 or more. That's better than a $51 ticket, says PPA-leaks.
Following these tips should reduce your chances of being ticketed. At least, that's what I'm told.
On Twitter: @StuBykofsky