By ADAM GOLDMAN
The Associated Press
Friday, September 1, 2006; 5:45 PM
NEW YORK -- On a narrow street in lower Manhattan, delivery driver Godvell Merilus pulls his UPS truck alongside a curb and parks illegally.
He doesn't have a choice: There are no legal spaces, and Merilus has a schedule to keep. The inevitable result comes wrapped in a blaze-orange envelope. Merilus gets a $115 parking ticket, one of four he receives this day.
"It's automatic," he said. "There is not a single day I don't get a summons."
Commercial delivery companies such as UPS, FedEx and others pay a steep price for doing business in New York City, getting an average of 7,000 parking tickets every day and paying more than $102 million in fines in the city's latest budget year.
The parking violations turned into such a bureaucratic nightmare that the city created a program to reduce or dismiss the tickets in exchange for companies waiving their right to contest them. The program has eliminated 770,000 ticket hearings and saved $1 million in administrative costs per year since it began two years ago.
The companies are also saving cash, although their annual New York City parking tab is still high because some tickets are not covered under the program.
"It would be better if they didn't give parking tickets, but I guess that's unreasonable," Jonathan Afromsky, vice president of Knickerbocker Meats Inc. in the Bronx.
UPS has a fleet of 1,000 trucks and receives about 15,000 tickets a month here. The company is the biggest offender in the city, paying $18.7 million in parking violations for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to city data. FedEx was second with $8.2 million.
"We receive by far more parking fines in New York City than anywhere else in the world," UPS spokeswoman Diane Hatcher said. "Simply stated, we don't have the same level of difficulty with finding available parking spaces or loading zones anywhere else."
The city issues about 10 million parking tickets a year. The program took shape after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when department heads were asked to make tough budget cuts.
In the finance department, Commissioner Martha Stark realized that many contested tickets issued to commercial trucks were dismissible as long as drivers were engaged in "expeditious delivery," meaning 30 minutes or less.
The problem: To get the violations tossed, the companies had to either send an employee or hire a ticket broker to argue their case in front of an administrative law judge, a headache that created a backlog of tickets, bogged down the courts and cost the city a small fortune.
Stark said 200 administrative law judges spent half their time hearing commercial parking cases that otherwise would be tossed out under the expeditious delivery rule. Violations were also taking up to a year in some cases to settle. Tickets on average now take anywhere from a month or two to get resolved.
"It struck us as a huge waste of time for the companies ... and for our staff," Stark said. "It was just unacceptable."
Under the program, the type of violation determines the ticket's outcome. For example, double-parking violations in some areas can be erased completely for commercial vehicles. Violations for blocking a crosswalk or a bike lane can only be reduced by about 15 percent. Fines for blocking a driveway can be knocked down by 75 percent.
To date, 312 companies have enrolled in the program, including UPS, FedEx, Verizon, Coca-Cola and Time Warner Cable, which are the city's biggest commercial offenders. Stark told the City Council that Verizon had saved $750,000.
"It is saving us time, and time is money," said Joseph Troiano, president and owner of Bronx Butter & Eggs Inc., which previously wasted about 15 hours a month fighting tickets given to its six delivery vans. The program has reduced his parking fines by about $5,000 a year.
Still, there are critics.
Lynn Landsberger, marketing director of parkingticket.com, which helps people get out of tickets, said the city's efforts were "smoke and mirrors." She said the city is writing more tickets for violations that the delivery companies can't get dismissed.
Stark rejected those claims. Ticket revenue is a mere 3 percent of the $18.5 billion the finance department collects each a year.
When officers start writing tickets for his UPS van, the affable Merilus tries to persuade them otherwise. If his company wasn't getting reams of tickets every day, he said, "maybe I'd get a bonus instead of a turkey."