Why Parking Tickets are a Statewide Issue for Pennsylvania in 2018
Here’s why we should demand parking reform
In Pittsburgh, 1 in 10 cars booted by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority are never reclaimed ¹. Scroll through any article about this process and you’ll notice a pattern: an 18-year old Geo Prism,² a 1992 Dodge, a 1995 Chrysler.³ These abandoned cars are subsequently sold at auction with the money returning to city coffers. Hundreds of cars are sold every year. Although you can contest a ticket, there is currently no system in place for working families to ask for a payment plan from the city. Instead, the fines just double and triple in offending value: fees stacked upon fees stacked upon fees.
In August of this year, PennDot announced it would begin suspending⁴ the registration of vehicles with more than $500 in unpaid toll fines. Despite the fact that proportionately, the largest violators of unpaid fines consists of about two dozen New Jersey trucking companies — owing a combined $1.5 million—it’s easier for the state to pursue it’s own residents.⁵ Yet again, working people are forced assume the financial burden caused by irresponsible corporations and businesses. Groups like the Western Center on Law and Poverty in California advise against suspension tactics, calling them a punishment for poverty.⁶ This is where capitalism cannibalizes itself: because eventually, preventing people from driving to work is just not good for business.
The militarization of everyday life has become so prevalent that we’ve accepted it as the norm. New technology, like the car barnacle, is being tested in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania.⁷ A monolith of suction cups and GPS technology, the car barnacle will end the use of car boot technology and bring about an easier, breezier, silicone dreamland for parking technology companies and their clients. Just imagine the revenue generated from “immobilizing” 100 cars a day instead of 10.
“In the past, the City was booting about 5-10 vehicles per month. In about three months’ time with the new program, we’ve booted more than 700.”
— A 2008 statement from Duncan Solutions, Pittsburgh Parking Authority provider⁸
It’s not just clamping technology that’s exploded over the years. Software companies have expanded beyond the realm of large, public contracts to private contracts with universities, hospitals and beyond. This kind of tech is now being aggressively marketed to even smaller businesses with the promise of big return on investment.⁹ Surveillance is constant and invasive, with the city of Pittsburgh photographing 200,000 cars every month, essentially tracking your every move.¹⁰
In California, assembly bill 503 passed over the summer mandating that the state offer sliding scale payment plans for people who could not afford to pay their parking fines in a lump sum.¹¹ Initially proposed by Republican Tom Lackey, the bill had strong bipartisan support and sailed through assembly. That didn’t stop the state’s public parking authority from lobbying (in all caps, red text) to oppose legislation.¹² Make no mistake, this was not merely an act of goodwill by Rep. Tom Lackey, but an offensively minimal compromise meant to maximize profit while momentarily placating angry constituents. A grassroots group in Los Angeles, comprised of an unusual coalition between business owners and disgruntled residents, originally sought to cap all parking fines at $23, a number meant to reflect the median hourly wage for greater L.A. area.¹³ Then bill 503 appeared.
People often point out to me that parking fees generate necessary operational money for the city. Also, we need fewer cars on the road. I can’t disagree with that. But not all funding is created equal. Recently, the Philadelphia Parking Authority robbed school districts of $80 million in funding.¹⁴ Parking authorities like Philadelphia’s are places of grave inequality. When Republicans won leadership “within six years of the takeover, the number of employees drawing six-figure salaries went from two to 20”.¹⁵ But the issue isn’t just local control and which party is in power. And saying we need reform is understatement.
A popular libertarian website recently published an article with the headline: Man Says He Was Choked Until He Pooped His Pants for Trying to Pay Parking Ticket With Pennies.¹⁶ Here is where I, as a socialist, would invoke state violence. Here is where my libertarian friends might talk about government overreach. But here is where we both get angry. Paying fines in pennies as a form of protest has become form of dissent. While I applaud this righteous anger, I believe the next step is to collectivize. This is not how government should work. It’s not just about the working class, it’s about corruption. City residents should not be treated as a money tree for stolen pensions and skyrocketing salaries. Surely, if the left and the right cannot unite in our hate for parking tickets, then America is really doomed!
Of course, not all ticketing is bad. Studies show that street sweeping is good for the environment ¹⁷ and arguably, most people probably want the government to operate parking policies more tangible than the notorious Pittsburgh parking chair. Here’s one thought: the city should invest in mass transit to deter the existence of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority in the first place. Why doesn’t the city develop infrastructure (say, a reminder system) so people move their cars on street sweeping days? I want to live in a world that prioritizes protecting the environment and our most vulnerable members of society.
Worst of all, I believe this system of incessant fees and hating of the poor is spreading. My hometown in South Carolina, where the median income is a mere $37,064 a year, recently stripped county residents of free beach parking.¹⁸ The area is called the Golden Mile because of its lavish beachfront homes and has always featured free parking. Last summer, residents were forced to buy yearly passes or pay expensive hourly rates to park. By my calculations, it will now cost me more to visit the beach for four hours than to attend a Steelers’ game. The beach! Where I grew up! Public land! Even more outrageous is that the neighboring residents, who live in a place that is unincorporated but a part of the county tax base, would not be able to park without an expensive pass. All over America, we protect the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
We should start considering taxes, fees, and fines not just as minor inconveniences of contemporary life — but instead as a war on the poor. In the same spirit as those who have questioned the cash bail system, it’s time to rethink the parking ticket.
We can fix these things. But first we have to start to see it as a priority.
One of 10 cars ‘booted’ by city are never claimed by owners
3 Pittsburgh Parking Authority sold 1,068 unclaimed, seized cars at auction
4 Suspensions Due to Unpaid Tolls, PA Turnpike Commission
5 Two dozen companies owe over $1.5M in Pa. turnpike tolls …
6 Pittsburgh’s parking authority snaps 200K motorists a month http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2013/09/22/Pittsburgh-s-parking-authority-snaps-200K-motorists-a-month/stories/201309220010
7 Forget the Car Boot, Now There’s a Car ‘Barnacle’: https://www.citylab.com/life/2016/10/forget-the-car-boot-heres-a-car-barnacle/504254/
8 Success Story: The Pittsburgh Parking Authority
9 Parking — A Revenue Source
10 BILL WOULD GIVE PARKING TICKET PAYMENT PLAN OPTION FOR LOW-INCOME DRIVERS
11 ‘LICENSE SUSPENSION SHOULD NEVER BE PUNISHMENT FOR POVERTY:’ ADVOCATES SUE DMV
12 Legislative update from the California Public Parking Authority
13 Group wants to revamp how L.A. collects parking ticket revenuehttp://www.latimes.com/local/cityhall/la-me-parking-fine-cap-20140613-story.html
14 Audit: Mismanagement at Parking Authority cheated District out of nearly $80 million
15 How the Parking Authority became a Republican patronage haven
16 Man Says He Was Choked Until He Pooped His Pants for Trying to Pay Parking Ticket With Pennies
17 Where do Pittsburghers get street sweeping tickets? Basically everywhere.
18 New Golden Mile parking rules go in effect July 1