The District of Columbia is No. 1 in the land in papering cars with parking tickets and booting and towing illegally parked cars -- the city program that many tourists, commuters and D.C. residents hate the most.
An agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation has found out officially what a lot of motorists have already learned the hard way: The District has the most comprehensive parking enforcement program in the country, issuing tickets and towing away cars at a rate that outstrips other cities.
The city made of a profit of about $22 million on parking enforcement operations in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, by towing away 46,000 vehicles, putting immobilizing boots on 24,400 others and issuing 1,050,000 parking tickets.
A consultant's study of parking enforcement in 20 cities, commissioned by the Federal Highway Safety Administration, found that Washington had the most efficient and cost-effective program of all. Moreover, John Brophy, chief of parking enforcement and operations for the District government, had an unpleasant message yesterday for those who have escaped the dragnet: Seven more ticket-writers and three more booting crews will be put out on the streets next month.
Brophy, jubilant at having been cited as No. 1 parking regulator in the federal study and invited to brief officials from other cities at a Department of Transportation parking seminar in December, praised the 100 relentless enforcers who patrol the streets for him as "people who have dedicated their lives" to enforcing the rules and combating scofflaws.
The federal survey found that:
The District's ticket-writers are the most productive in the country, each issuing an average of 106 parking tickets a day; the figure for New York ticket-writers is 35.
Parking meters in the District produced $4.9 million in revenue in the past year -- 10 times the cost of maintaining them, which was the best cost-benefit ratio in the country. Philadelphia, a city three times the size of Washington, earned less than $3 million in meter revenues. (Mayor Marion Barry has proposed adding 2,000 more meters next year.)
The booting program, which Washington pioneered and is now emulated by other cities, is the largest in the nation, putting 67 cars a day out of action.
Brophy said that his corps of parking enforcers is "spread pretty thin" because they are responsible for the residential-street parking restrictions that prohibit commuter parking in many city neighborhoods. pBut, he said, "We set standards of production" that require the street patrols to keep up their ticket-writing pace.
Despite the pressure on the ticket-writers, he said they generally were ticketing only authentic violators -- the evidence being that fewer than 1 percent of the tickets were challenged in court. About 60 percent of those ticketed now pay "voluntarily," the city said, instead of waiting to have the boot attached to immobilize their cars. The city maintains a computerized list of unpaid parking tickets and when a motorist collects four unpaid tickets, the license plate number is placed on a list of cars to be booted, Brophy said.
The tickets issued by the city's Department of Transportation and police combined brought in $26 million last year, $19 million from the civilian enforcers. But Brophy said that raising revenue was not the main purpose of strict parking enforcement. The purpose, he said, is "to avoid traffic congestion. The money is a happy coincidence."
But not all the money owed the city from parking tickets is collected. The Washington Post discovered last summer that while thousands of tickets are written each day, hundreds of thousands of dollars in bad checks for the tickets were languishing in cardboard boxes while the city made little effort to recoup the money.