Unpaid Parking Tickets and Lost Revenue for Cities

Diagonal City Hall Sign

It seems like it should a simple process: you receive a parking ticket, you pay it, and the city collects the amount, along with whatever fines you may have incurred. However, there are many, many people who receive a parking ticket, and never pay it. What happens then?

The answer varies depending on the city in question, and the task of collecting unpaid parking tickets isn’t an easy one for any city. Some cities place a “boot” on a car after a certain number of violations, requiring the parker to pay the balance on their debt before it can be removed. Some cities issue tow warrants – or even arrest warrants – to encourage parkers to pay their dues. But there are times these policies can’t work. What if the parker was from out-of-state? The ticket then becomes exponentially more difficult for the city to collect, as it won’t have the opportunity to boot the car or tow it. This is especially troublesome in cities with high tourism rates, like New York City, which simply writes off a large portion of its uncollected debt, assuming it never be able to recover the money.

This is an excerpt from the 2014 NYC Financial Report. That is $404m that the city has written off as unable to collect!

Some parkers with exceptionally high fines simply abandon the vehicle, assuming the debt outweighs the value of the car. In Portland, a student at Portland State University experienced just this.

“The car wasn’t even worth the amount I owed in parking fines, so I just left it there, figuring the city would sell the car, pay off the tickets and that would be that.”

However, the solution isn’t that easy for the city, which may not have the means to sell a vehicle to clear the debt of unpaid parking tickets.

Some cities, like Harrisburg, PA, have become creative in their solutions. Because the city relies on archaic methods of collecting their unpaid parking tickets, it has accrued $1.25 million in unpaid parking tickets so far this year, and is on pace to double that number by the end of the year. This amounts to 20,000 unpaid parking tickets that the city will be unable to collect. The city’s mayor has proposed setting up a unique “parking court” system, similar to the way many cities handle traffic tickets, to force the hand of violators.

Of course, the lack of revenue from parking tickets can prove problematic for many cities, which rely on the money from parkers to fund public schools or infrastructure improvements. This has caused city officials and taxpayers alike to speak up, and demand a better way to ensure the city’s money is collected.

In 2013, the International Parking Institute conducted a study amongst parking industry professionals, such as city parking officials, to find out how to solve problems like these. Not surprisingly, 59% of respondents cited that “a move toward innovative technologies to improve parking access control and payment automation,” would improve situations like these. In governments where payments are often still processed with some degree of manual, human involvement, it’s not surprising that some tickets are never tracked down.

It seems logical for city’s to pursue an electronic means of both creating an easier payment process for the customer, and reducing time-to-collection for themselves. Boston has been quick to embrace a digital solution, and has entertained many mobile solutions which assist both the parker and the city in parking. Apps like ParkBoston offer citizens the ability to feed the parking meter with their phone and a credit card, plus one exciting benefit that is uniquely digital: the ability to re-up your time without having to go back to your car.

The Quickit app would offer a similar solution. By allowing those who have just received a parking ticket to scan the ticket into their phone immediately upon receiving it, and setting an option to receive notifications about the upcoming due dates, parkers won’t have the option to use the excuse “out of sight, out of mind”. The benefits are afforded to both the city as well as the customer, who can avoid late fees by having their device remind them of the ticket.

With the success of mobile wallet solutions like ApplePay and Android Pay, it is clear that society is becoming more apt to find convenient payment solutions. Doesn’t it seem logical that the parking industry should follow suit?


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