Posts Tagged ‘Parking Fees’

It’s been an odd week in parking news, mainly because of two six figure stories on opposite ends of the spectrum. In Chicago, we finally have a resolution to the car that accrued more than $105,000 in tickets at O’Hare airport; and in Buffalo, NY we have a meter technician that was caught stealing $210,000 in quarters over 8 years. First, let’s take a look at the Windy City.

As some may recall, a car owned by Jennifer Fitzgerald of Chicago was left in the O’Hare International Airport employee parking lot for more than three years, accruing 678 tickets totaling $106,000 during that time. She filed a suit with the city, showing evidence that while the car had been in her name, it had belonged to a now-ex boyfriend for all intents and purposes. He worked at O’Hare, and was the one who abandoned the vehicle in the lot, refusing to have the car signed over to his name. With the car in an employee lot where she was not allowed to go, Fitzgerald was unable to retrieve it. On top of that, after a vehicle has been deemed abandoned for two to three months, by law the city is supposed to tow and impound the vehicle, but parking enforcement workers at O’Hare never did this. Instead, they continued to ticket the vehicle for years, not just fining it for parking violations but also for having illegally tinted windows or out of date city tags and registration. While parking enforcement denies having quotas, it’s fairly obvious that employees were ticketing this car again and again instead of towing it to boost some kind of metric that they’re evaluated on.

Yesterday, Ms. Fitzgerald’s suit was dismissed and a settlement agreed upon with the city. She would pay a total of $4500 to clear the tickets and fines, with a $1600 down payment to be made by her former boyfriend and the rest to be paid off by Fitzgerald in monthly installments of $78 for the next three years. While being less than 5% of what was owed, this seems like a fairly equitable settlement; the majority of those fines shouldn’t have been there as the vehicle should have been towed, the ex boyfriend is taking care of a big chunk of it, with the rest on Fitzgerald (who missed an earlier court date related to the tickets, thereby increasing them all exponentially). Still, the fact that it took more than three years to even notice this is alarming, and just goes to show just how lax city oversight of parking enforcement and operations usually is.

That said, Chicago is still ahead of the game compared to Buffalo, NY where city meter mechanic James Bagarozzo was sentenced to two and half years in prison for stealing more than $210,000 in quarters from city meters between 2003 and 2011. Using his position and technical skills, he rigged about 70 parking meters so that he could collect from them undetected. He would then go to the bank on his lunch hour and roll and exchange the coins. I once had to roll nearly $50 in quarters and other change, and that took hours; Jimmy Bagz (that’s what I’m calling him now) rolled more than 10,000 pounds, that’s five tons, of quarters! Jimmy Bagz had one co-conspirator, a co-worker named Lawrence Charles who helped with the scheme for five years and stole $15,000 in that period.

So how did they get caught? Well that’s the beauty of this story, one that just drives home the point I make again and again in so many of these stories: a little attention and oversight by the city’s parking management will save money and keep most parking abuses from happening. You see, Buffalo parking commissioner Kevin Helfer noticed that the digital meters in the city were making significantly more money than the old mechanical meters, which is odd. He had an investigation launched and using video surveillance they were able to discover that Jimmy Bagz had been stealing fro the old meters daily. When the FBI was called in and they confronted Jimmy Bagz, he admitted to the thefts (which are considered a federal crime). Since this debacle, the city has switched entirely to digital meters that take both credit cards and coins and are next to impossible to rob. Since making these changes and ending Jimmy Bagz’ scheme, city parking meter revenue is up $500,000 annually. With that kind of improvement, you have to wonder if there might have been others skimming off the top as well. Regardless, the city and it’s citizens are all benefitting from this wannabe Stan Smith finally being caught, and all thanks to a parking official that actually took their job seriously and paid attention to what was going on.

As of yet, there is no word on whether Kevin Helfer looks like Forrest Whitaker, but I find the story far more amusing to imagine he does.

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It all started with a $20 parking ticket given to Toledo lawyer Jeffrey Zilba while he was parked in front of the Ottawa County courthouse in Port Clinton, OH in the summer of 2011. Since the legality of his parking was ambiguous (and being a professional arguer for a living), Mr. Zilba wanted to challenge the ticket, as many of us have unfortunately been forced to do at one point or another. That was when he realized that the ticket had no phone number and no way of challenging it given on the ticket. Failure to pay the $20 ticket would result in a misdemeanor, meaning that the only option for someone receiving one was to either pay the fine and admit guilt or become guilty of a crime. Not only was this unacceptable to Mr. Zilbas, but he saw it as a violation of his right to due process as guaranteed under both the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. So Mr. Zilbas paid the ticket to avoid the misdemeanor and decided to start a suit against the city.

And that’s when things started to spin out of control. The suit dragged on for more than a year and a half, finally ending with a ruling in favor of Mr. Zilbas. The city was ordered to decriminalize their parking tickets and provide a way to challenge them, as well as paying damages to Mr. Zilbas. Those damages? $45,000 worth of lawyers fees! The money to pay the settlement was approved by the Port Clinton city council, which has also started the process of changing their ticketing ordnances. The money to pay for this case will unfortunately come from the city’s general fund, which will cause the delay or abandonment of some of the projects slated for the city this year.

So where does the blame lie? Well, despite what seems like some pretty high lawyer fees and what must be heaping helpings of determination or stubbornness, Mr. Zilbas is not the one at fault; his rights were infringed on, and he had a legitimate case. The blame and responsibility really lies with the city. They enacted the unconstitutional ticket policy in the first place, and also failed to resolve this case out of court when it would have been much cheaper for taxpayers and saved a lot of time as well. When it gets down to it, it was, as always, the combination of a lack of oversight and attention to the city’s parking program and not wanting to give up some of the cash cow that is parking fees, even if those fees are being levied unfairly and without a way to challenge them. It’s a small tyranny, but it’s still a tyranny when meter maids are made into judge and jury for Port Clinton citizens.

Taxes have been a big dispute in this country, particularly during the past few years of recession. While we’d all like to pay less taxes, the combination of federal and state level austerity combined with some of the lowest tax rates in our history (because apparently a lot of politicians somehow think that two negative hits to their budget will somehow equal a surplus) has left many local governments struggling to find new ways to generate revenue and get themselves back in the black, and for many cities this has meant ramping up parking fees and parking enforcement, using them as a hidden tax. The problem with this is that many municipalities had already been heavily relying on parking to shore up their budget, and the financial burden it creates is saddled almost entirely by low-income citizens.

The pressure to generate more and more revenue through parking puts an undue strain on both parking enforcers, who are still seeing budget cuts, furlough days and pay freezes on top of dealing with irate parkers who blame them for city ordnances, and average citizens who find that they’re having to pay more and more just to run errands, go shopping or just to go to work thanks to less and les free parking and skyrocketing meter rates and parking fines. And on top of all of that, all too often the money garnered through these more draconian parking policies isn’t being used to improve the parking situation for parkers or for long overdue infrastructure improvements that more and more parking garage and facilities are desperately in need of.

Examples of this are everywhere. In New York and New Jersey, the transportation authority raised rates on parkers and subway travelers yet again, and yet none of the their revenue for the next few years is budgeted for much needed upgrades to those services which have been overburdened and in need of upgrades for close to a decade. And all too often the funds being generated are being used to pay down massive debts incurred by parking authorities that were being mismanaged with next to no oversight for years if not decades, so that increased parking fees are going toward construction debts for projects that may not have even been finished or were unnecessary in the first place (cronyism is rampant in parking authorities, as I’ve pointed out before). And paying down these debts often keeps the authorities in question from embarking on projects that are actually needed and would either lessen the burden on themselves and parkers, increase revenues, or both.

At the end of the day, it’s folks like you and me that end up paying the price. Just the other day in Sacramento, a man left for work in the morning, leaving his car parked at the curb in front of his house like he usually did. When he returned home, he found that the city had put in “No Parking” signs along the street (without informing any of the street residents beforehand), including one right in front of his car, and had then ticketed him for being parked in a no parking zone; and when he tried to appeal the nearly $60 ticket, the county dismissed his appeal! Lucky for Casey Elson (our victim in this story), his local news station did some digging and was able to get the city to void the ticket. During a ride along with a parking enforcer earlier in the week, an L.A. reporter witnessed them ticket a car that had accidentally parked behind a street sweeping sign, a sign which was bent sideways and completely obscured by a low hanging branch. The enforcer reported the broken sign, but still slapped the car with a $73 ticket since there was a sign further down the block (because who doesn’t check the street signs a block away to make sure they didn’t accidentally park in a no parking zone?!).

I could go on and on, as the examples keep coming every week. And it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight, as local municipalities find themselves getting squeezed tighter and tighter. So what can we do, besides riding a bike or continuing to wait for Start Trek transporter technology? Well, at this point the best thing is to let your local government know; call your city council members, contact your local transportation authority, and when you hear or see a parking injustice, write a letter to the editor or email your local news. The reason that these parking authorities are so mismanaged and keep saddling lower income residents with more and more of these hidden taxes is because they are operating in the dark and they know that no one is paying attention to what they’re doing. That’s why a little sunlight shined on your local parking authority can lead to a little relief for yourself and other parkers and force your local government to actually tackle their budget issues instead of continually subsidizing government laziness with parking fees.

Airport Parking Fees Could Rise After State Takeover

by ISRAEL BALDERAS Bio    | Email   | Follow: @israel_balderas       by PHOTOJOURNALIST TIM MULLICAN

Story Created:            Mar 18, 2013 at 11:04 PM EDT

Story Updated:        Mar 19, 2013 at 12:33 AM EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Parking rates at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport are quite lower than other similar size airports. Those fees, in turn, help to partly fund operations.

But under a profit-sharing arrangement with U.S. Air, millions of dollars also flow to the airport’s largest tenant.

To get higher revenues, fees could go up. But for that to happen, city council oversight would also have to be removed.

“Charlotte used to be great to fly out of,” said Mooresville resident Chuck Fogle. “With this, it’s really made business travel difficult.”

Fogle says construction plans for a new hourly parking deck are lacking. Most travelers have to use the long term area, which can be a hassle on a rainy day.

“You have to walk a long distance from your car to the bus stop,” said Fogle.

For those returning back to their cars after a flight, there’s confusion about which bus to take.

“This is the fourth bus already, and its not ours yet,” said Greenville, S.C. resident Dave Overbaugh. “We’ve never seen a daily north before.”

But the parking headaches are worth it, as long as it’s cheap to park and fly, and fares don’t go up.

“I hope not,” said Overbaugh with a laugh. “It’s a whole lot cheaper to fly out.”

Currently, U.S. Air receives almost $10.5 million from the airport budget in “non airline terminal revenue.” That is money travelers spend, such as buying coffee or parking their cars.

A spokesperson for U.S. Air says they supported raising parking rates, along with other airlines. But, U.S. Air adds, “we did not initiate, drive or influence the actual rates.”

Keep in mind, the airline accounts for 90% of the airport’s 700 daily flights.

Right now, Charlotte City Council is fighting the Republican controlled General Assembly over a proposed takeover of the city’s airport.

By turning it over to a regional authority, Charlotte would have its management oversight taken away by state legislators.

“There’s clearly an issue of political accountability,” said Mayor Anthony Foxx.

Any increase in concession costs and parking fees ultimately has to go through the city. But with a regional authority, citizens would have no one to address their concerns.

FOX Charlotte sources say airport manager Jerry Orr has researched parking rates in other markets. To raise them, Orr would have to appear before city council and make such request.

If that were to happen, council members would be the first ones getting the phone calls.

State legislators who propose a regional authority say the move would take away any politics from airport decisions.

“Today citizens can call and complain about various things that have to do with the airport,” said Foxx, “and we have to manage that.”

Republican State Senator Bob Rucho wrote the legislation that turns Charlotte-Douglas from a city managed airport to a regional authority.

Section 5 of the bill states future board members will receive free parking.