In Pennsylvania, all crimes have a statute of limitations, except murder — and forgetting to feed the parking meter. The Philadelphia Parking Authority has decided that parking tickets are forever, too. For several months, the ruthlessly efficient agency has been hunting down and booting the cars of drivers who long ago forgot they owed fines, or who paid tickets but have lost their proof.
The agency boots cars when people have failed to pay off three tickets. But without warning it has been adding old, forgotten tickets from drivers’ old cars in with new tickets to get to the boot threshold. According to an Inquirer report, some tickets are more than 20 years old and written on cars drivers no longer own. No wonder they’ve forgotten about them.
The authority is so in love with this stab from the past that it recently bought more vehicles to stalk more prey. The action is paying off for the agency. It booted 1,000 more cars this October than it did last October. It’s brought in $5.6 million more so far this year than last. But the PPA won’t explain whether the aggressive booting is the reason for higher revenue or if other factors are at play, because the authority’s efficiency is exceeded only by its arrogance.
The authority is supposed to control parking in the city and send a portion of its revenue to Philadelphia’s struggling public schools, a task that it’s been improving. But the authority’s overzealous enforcement is not paying off for the parking public.
Booting mania is so rampant that Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell wants one-time forgiveness of tickets that are more than three years old as long as drivers pay off more recent tickets. That may be a little too forgiving, but she’s on the right track. Blackwell should amend her bill to require the Parking Authority to prove it has notified its targets before booting their cars. She should require the authority to allow drivers a reasonable amount of time to prove whether they’ve paid their tickets. And the authority should negotiate late fees, not only with the ancient scofflaws but the more recent violators. If the agency is going to conduct a well-advised amnesty program, it should cover all violators, not just those from prior decades.
There’s a good precedent. Council restrained the Parking Authority when it was acting against the public interest in 2011. Drivers had complained they were getting dunning letters on ghost tickets. The tickets had been pulled off their windshields or never placed there by enforcement officers, so Councilman Bill Greenlee sponsored a bill requiring that the agency alert drivers when their cars were ticketed.
Booting is a punishment that often does not fit the crime. Imagine the shock when drivers come out of work, a club, or a store, and find their cars have been booted. What if it’s too late to pay off their tickets and too late to catch SEPTA home? That’s not just inconvenient. It’s dangerous.
The Parking Authority should not be allowed to change its rules without informing the public. It should stick to its role of just annoying us.