So How Much Should a Parking Ticket Cost?

A group of Angelenos want the price of most parking tickets to be $23, which is the median hourly wage in Los Angeles. However, some question whether that would actually deter people from abusing the system. 

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Is street parking enforcement and policy fair and effective in Los Angeles? 

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   It’s a question that many have asked, but one that the city has not formally reviewed in years. That began to change this summer, when Mayor Eric Garcetti called upon a group of urban planners, business owners, parking experts and residents to figure out how the street parking system could be improved. 

Much of the momentum stems from Steven Vincent and Jay Beeber, who head the grassroots group L.A. Parking Freedom Initiative. They are also two of five co-chairs of Garcetti’s working group, which is split into two subgroups focusing on policy and management. 

The L.A. Parking Freedom Initiative’s ideas for changing the system break down into four basic ideas: reduce the fines of minor parking infractions; make it easier and simpler for people to avoid tickets; create a system of input from neighborhoods to shape local regulations; and remove tickets as a funding mechanism for the city’s general fund. 

Those concepts and more are under discussion in the working group and could change street parking policy in Downtown Los Angeles. The planning process is still in an early stage, and the working group hopes to draft a reform plan by November, Vincent said. 

Calling for Change

The most common complaint that the city Department of Transportation receives about parking enforcement is the price of the ticket, said Greg Savelli, the executive officer of the DOT’s Parking Enforcement and Traffic Control Group. That’s no surprise, and the L.A. Parking Freedom Initiative has suggested lowering fines on common violations, such as staying beyond the time limit or not moving a car on a street sweeping day, to $23. The group chose that figure because it is the median hourly wage in Los Angeles. 

Vincent argues that the current ticket average of $68 — $45.50 of which goes to the city’s general fund, according to LADOT — is a disproportionate price to pay for offenses that don’t endanger public safety. Part of the motivation to keep prices high is the fact that ticket revenue is included in the city’s budget estimates, he said, calling it a “de-facto quota.” 

The amount of parking citation fines collected by the city has grown steadily over the past decade, from almost $110 million in 2003 to about $161 million this year, according to the office of the City Administrative Officer.

“The key thing to change is that parking enforcement cannot be driven by revenue generation,” Vincent said. 

Garcetti appears to agree that the policy needs to change. In a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session last year, he wrote, “Tickets should be used to manage parking, not as a revenue source, and that is what I am going to look to do.”

LADOT’s Savelli counters that parking fines need to be high enough to deter violations and keep turnover on street spaces, something that store owners want. He questioned whether a $23 fine would accomplish that. He also rejected the assertion that his department has a quota.

“In any good business, you’re going to put down revenue projections, but nobody is held to that number,” Savelli said. “It’s just based on past analysis, historical data and a workforce analysis. We monitor performance and gauge whether we’re on target, but there is no fallout if we’re not.” 

The bigger issue, he said, is that the department can and should do a better job of communicating with the public. LADOT is putting more educational videos and FAQs on its website, and leveraging social media for outreach regarding common parking mistakes, he added.

“I hope the public realizes that they truly control the number of tickets we issue — no violation, no ticket,” he said. “But I want better outreach to teach the public, and we need to do a better job of that.” 

Demand Pricing

Turnover of cars at street meters is critical for area businesses, which makes speedy enforcement and deterring fines important, Savelli added. But activists for reform argue that current parking regulations do not sufficiently take into account the needs of a neighborhood such as Downtown

“We’re managing parking in a very limited way. If you look at surrounding cities — Santa Monica, Pasadena, West Hollywood — they take a much more comprehensive approach,” said Mott Smith, a developer with Civic Enterprises and another co-chair on the mayor’s working group. “In those cities the parking officials, economic development officials, city manager and planners are meeting constantly

and see themselves as a team. There’s not that dialogue in L.A.” 

Vincent, Smith and others say there needs to be a mechanism for area stakeholders, including residents and business owners, to help shape local parking policy. Time limits and meter prices could be manipulated to minimize traffic and open up more stalls during peak hours, for instance. This notion of a “Goldilocks Principle” is something championed by parking expert Donald Shoup, who is a professor of urban planning at UCLA. 

“Only trial and error will reveal the right price for curb parking,” Shoup wrote in his 2007 study titled “Cruising for Parking.” 

This process of “right-pricing” could take the pressure off the city to collect fines for revenue, Smith noted. In addition, the L.A. Parking Freedom Initiative has called for fines to go into a special fund to be used only on transportation matters, such as building city-owned parking garages or upgrading meters. 

Garcetti’s creation of a working group means that street parking policy may be primed for a reboot, one that could particularly benefit stakeholders and visitors in areas such as Downtown. The conversation, advocates say, has been a long time coming.

eddie@downtownnews.com

Twitter: @eddiekimx

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014