District scofflaws may soon have an easier time coping with the city's new crackdown on illegal parking.
The city is scheduled to sign a contract later this month with the Union First National Bank that would allow individuals to charge their parking fines and towing fees on credit cards.
District Treasurer Carolyn Smith said the credit card arrangement would cost the city $189,000 a year, but indicated that was probably cheaper than being forced to keep "all those cars" impounded under the new program.
The unique plan is yet another phase of the city's crackdown on parking violators. Last October the city engaged 49 blue-suited civilians to issue tickets -- about 3,500 a day -- to parking violators.
Then the city increased its attachment of "boots" to autos whose owners have had a number of parking violations. A boot is a metal device that is attached to the wheel of an auto preventing it from being moved. After the outstanding tickets are paid the boot is removed.
In January the city began towing cars illegally parked in downtown Washington. The program is working well, officials have said. Revenues from parking tickets last December were $649,000 more than the previous December. But perhaps it works too well because many violators attempting to pay the fines, especially on weekends, don't have enough cash, city officials said. Credit card payment was the naturla answer.
Under the credit card arrangement, anyone with a Visa or Master Charge card would be able to charge their fines with the city. To pay the bank, Smith said, the city would deposit a "compensating balance" with Union First that the bank could invest for its profit.
Smith said the average credit card transaction was expected to cost the city $1. The bank, according to Smith, charged 6 percent for a $10 transaction with the percentage rate dropping as the amount of money being charged on the credit card increased. For charges of $75 or more the bank charges a miximum of 2 percent, Smith said.
Smith, in outlining the contract with Union First, used the opportunity to express anger at the District banking community for refusing to bid on the credit card contract.
She said the city requested bids on the credit card program three or four months ago, and only Union First bothered to respond. "It's just unbelievable that the city banking industry is not responding to us," she said.
The reluctance of the banks to bid on the contract, she said, apparently was related to the fact that most District banks do not have creidt card operations and would have to subcontract the city parking agreement at an added cost.
Several large banks in the area do have credit card operations, however. riggs National Bank, for example owns Central Charge, the largest credit card operation in the area.