Thursday, October 01, 2009

Parking Ticket to Deride

The other day Mike Bloomberg -putting progress over politics no doubt-took a stand for reforming the way New Yorkers are ticketed by the city's parking meter army: "Now, we want to make life a little easier for New Yorkers on an issue that is so often a source of frustration: parking. We want to make it easier to find a parking spot, easier to avoid a ticket, and - if you do get a ticket - easier to pay it, by paying over the phone or on a wireless PDA device."

Hey Mike, this parking ticket frustration ain't about making it, "easier," to pay for the ticket-it's about the use of parking tickets to raise revenues and erode the neighborhood quality of life. Oh, and did we forget, it's also an assault on neighborhood business? What burns us here, aside from the misdirection, is how the mayor has discovered this issue-even in his own maladroit technocratic manner-so late in his mayoralty. Where has he been?

Councilman Vinnie Gentile's rebuttal in the NY Daily News gets to the nub of this issue: "Mayor Bloomberg's new parking promises are way too little and way too late. The real problem that needs to be fixed on our streets - a problem that just about any commuter understands - is the aggressive and unfair culture of parking enforcement and ticketing in this city. It's a culture of acrimony instead of partnership; of unfair targeting instead of fair ticketing; of raising revenue instead of keeping our streets safe and clear."

And it becomes another way to drive shoppers away from their neighborhood stores: "Local businesses are struggling because ticketing agents ruthlessly target drivers along once-flourishing commercial avenues. Some of those businesses, in recognition of the ceaseless ticketing blitz, have even offered to pay customers' tickets." Another reason why local store vacancies are at record levels.

And Bloomberg's typical technological approach avoids the real issue: "Making it easier for drivers to pay (often unfair) tickets only makes it easier for the city to collect revenue; introducing new technology to help drivers keep track of when their time at the meter is up could be costly and complicated, and doesn't get to the heart of the matter."

At the heart is the rapacious nature of the process-starting with the agents themselves; but culminating in an injustice system that gives those who challenge tickets little chance at success, even in the most egregious situations: "My south Brooklyn district office is regularly inundated with complaints from drivers who are hit with unfair, undeserved tickets from ticketing agents. Agents seem to swoop down en masse on busy, commercial avenues with the sole objective of issuing as many tickets as possible in as short a time as possible. Drivers trying to back up into a curbside metered parking spot are routinely issued $115 tickets for double-parking despite the fact that the departing car was on its way out of the spot. A senior citizen dropping his spouse off for a dialysis treatment was issued a double-parking ticket because he dared leave his vehicle to escort his frail wife to the front door of the treatment center."

Getting any justice? Fuhgettaboutitt! "The out-of-control ticketing is upheld over and over in court. In 2006, an agent issued a ticket to a driver for parking at a hydrant. A hydrant did not exist at that location - but an administrative law judge upheld the ticket anyway. The driver appealed the decision to New York Supreme Court; the presiding judge dismissed the ticket. The plaintiff was even awarded damages of some $6,000 for his legal fees."

This is the same adjudication process that is inflicted on the city's retailers in neighborhood shops; one that is designed to simply raise revenue with no sensitivity to the need to nurture these businesses and not beat them like a drum. What the city needs is a fairer, and less aggressive revenue producing posture towards its neighborhoods: "Ticketing in New York City is no longer a method of keeping our streets safe. It has evolved into a desperate attempt to put the burden of closing the city's budget gap on the backs of the people who live, work and raise families here. Since Bloomberg took office, nearly 80 million tickets have been issued, costing New York City drivers more than $4 billion. Did drivers need to be targeted upward of $4 billion for the mayor to acknowledge that something is wrong?"

And Gentile has legislation that makes much more sense than Bloomberg's more complex, and less germane, approach: "One bill would require the city to allow drivers to upload and submit photos and scanned images to their online appeals of issued tickets. This would give all plaintiffs an equal, fighting chance to have their tickets overturned. A second bill would require an affirmative statement from administrative law judges who decide to uphold contested tickets. They'd need to explain why they're upholding a ticket, instead of simply rubber-stamping it. Finally, we should suspend the accrual of all late fees, fines and penalties while a driver is actively appealing a ticket. Today, drivers are penalized by fines and fees if they choose to contest a ticket or refuse the Finance Department's offer of a lower fine. This is unreasonable, costly and only discourages drivers from appealing unfair tickets."

The mayor has neglected neighborhoods for eight years now-and has let the local businesses suck the hind teat in the process. His campaign reincarnation here as some one sensitive to middle class concerns is simply unbelievable-and certainly won't have any legs should he be anointed once again in November-particularly as the city revenues continue to crater after his eight year aggrandizement of city government at the expense of New York's hapless tax payers.