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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 4th, 2010

Vancouver to crack down on parking tickets

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CBC News report that reminds me, once again, that life simply keeps on repeating itself. Some of you may be familiar with this part of my history: I have probably written about it here before too. But this issue keeps cropping up – and has been resolved elsewhere. And ought probably not to be an issue here. One of the things that can happen here is that your licence plate sticker can be withheld at renewal time if you have outstanding parking tickets. So there must be something I am not understanding.

Councillor Geoff Meggs says the city is owed around $8 million in uncollected fines because so many tickets are tied up in court, where the wait can be as long as 2½ years.

We had the same problem in London in the mid 1980s. In fact, the problem got so bad that people realized that they did not have to pay their parking tickets – because the courts were so bunged up that no penalty was actually going to happen. Indeed, it seems to me to be entirely likely that by the time a parking ticket does come to court either the officer’s memory can be challenged (“Do you really recall every ticket you issued over two years ago?”) or the case gets tossed due to unreasonable delay. Or, as has happened to me when I really, really wanted to challenge a parking ticket I knew was illegal, the officer simply fails to appear.

Over 10 percent of parking violators account for nearly 40 percent of all fines, according to city staff.

Actually I thought the rule for this kind of thing was the old 80/20 rule. The point being that it is the minority who are “scofflaws” who threaten to bring down the system when their numbers move over that line. The City of Denver came up with the solution first – hence the name “the Denver boot” or wheel-clamp. When a vehicle had more than ten unpaid parking tickets outstanding an enforcement officer would clamp it to render it immovable until the fines were paid. The system then relied on developments in IT which now would look humorous.   These days something like an iPad – or even an iPhone would make the whole thing very slick indeed.

We (the UK Department of Transport) wanted to try this out in Central London. The old GLC had been abolished and the civil servants were keen to show how effective they could be. Trouble was the Secretary of State for the Environment, Nicholas Ridley, was none too keen on the data collection aspect. “We will get hammered by the civil liberties crowd.” So we tried the “Yes, Minister” trick of suggesting something else so extreme we thought he would reluctantly agree to our original proposal as preferable. “We can’t clamp someone just for one offence, like overstaying a meter, Minister.”

“Why not?”

So that’s what we did. In fact what we clamped was any offence – because as soon as the clamping team’s van appeared all the offenders scarpered sharpish. We even had to persuade the unclampers not to be too efficient, in order to maximize the deterrent  effect of the clamped car. Only Lamborghinis were exempt: we could never get a clamp to fit on them. Parking enforcement in Central London was transformed very speedily.

Now all I am suggesting here is what old Nick would not allow us to do. The licence plate number is simply entered into a machine now to issue a ticket. That machine can either have a memory chip with the current top offenders licence plate numbers in it – or it can look up a web page to check if this vehicle has more than ten tickets issued already. If yes it not only gets the ticket, it gets clamped too.

Of course drivers will hate it. That is because they have been caught – finally. There will be all kinds of noise and complaints – just as there were with photo radar for speeders. We should never have caved to that pressure, nor should we now.

And since this government thinks that it is worth spending millions to try and catch fare evaders on SkyTrain, they really have no excuse for not taking action against scofflaws who park illegally and seem to be getting way with it.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Posted in parking

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