Parking fines could go ‘automated’

Discussions that started a year ago about shifting parking enforcement downtown from a manual to a camera system are moving forward. The changes, if any, are still about a year away.

The city’s parking committee first floated the idea of installing license plate scanning equipment on enforcement vehicles last February. The equipment records license plates, times and locations, so when the enforcement camera returns, it can issue tickets for parkers overstaying the allotted time. This would save time by speeding up the process and could potentially lead to tickets being mailed to drivers instead of manually being written out and placed on car windshields. That enforcement shift would require changes to the city’s laws and follow a slate of outreach and community discussions, however. But those discussions could also include an option to put “wheel boots” on cars that have more than five tickets. The boots can only be removed after the driver pays the tickets. The driver would then return the boot to a central location.

“Those are two separate pieces,” said city parking staffer Eric Huseby. “This is sort of preliminary.”

Discussions about the enforcement changes rose again this month when a $300,000 line item to buy the equipment needed for camera enforcement was added to the city’s 2014 budget during its recent biennial budget review talks. The line item was needed just in case the shift moves forward.

The parking task force recommended the city adopt the cameras to be more efficient in parking enforcement since the automated system scans more cars than an enforcement officer could handle manually.

A company called PayLock conducted a trial of the system last winter and found some 236,855 unpaid citations in Tacoma and determined this included 75,535 unique plates owing a total of $42 million. Notably, this number included 10,910 vehicles owing more than $1,000 each and 21,775 drivers owing more than $300 each.

Technicians used the equipment in Tacoma for an hour and found 2,073 unique license plates that included 114 owing unpaid parking tickets. This means 1.7 vehicles with unpaid tickets were located each minute. These 114 vehicles owed a total of $32,540 in parking tickets, averaging $285 per vehicle. About 50 of the vehicles had three or more outstanding citations totaling $24,373 in fines and penalties.

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