If you’re a D.C. resident and you forget to pay that $30 parking ticket, you could soon get a break on the late fee.
A proposal before the D.C. Council would exempt District residents from paying late fees for failing to pay a parking or traffic ticket before the 30-day deadline.
Sorry, Marylanders and Virginians, the relief would only benefit District residents. So if you don’t want that fine to double, you’ll have to pay it within a month.
The measure includes parking fines as well as those issued by red-light and speed cameras. Currently, a $30 fine for parking at an expired meter doubles to $60 after 30-day grace period. A $150 red-light ticket turns into $300 and a speeding ticket goes from $300 to $600. You get the point.
“The average person in D.C., especially in wards 7, 8 and 5 and parts of 4 don’t have extra money to give to the government,” said Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), a lead sponsor of the bill, which has seven other council members on board. The proposal has been referred to panel’s transportation committee.
White said double fines are a burden to the city’s poor, and don’t help address safety concerns.
“D.C. says that the tickets are about public safety. So how does doubling the ticket address public safety?” he asked. While the city has defended the policy as a tool to make people pay more quickly, White said the city has other mechanisms to get violators to pay up.
“People are going to pay regardless. If they don’t pay the tickets they get a boot. If they don’t pay after that they get towed. If they get towed, they’ve got to pay the lot every day the car is there. Then they take it off the taxes and it can affect their credit,” White said.
If enacted, the bill could significantly impact the bottom lines of motorists — and the city’s coffers, said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. Last year the District issued nearly 2.8 million citations that amounted to about $300 million in fines, he said. But 41 percent of those fines went unpaid.
District residents owed the city nearly $24 million in unpaid tickets in fiscal year 2016. In the first quarter of fiscal 2017, city residents owed $7 million in fines, according to data gathered by AAA Mid-Atlantic.
One of the problems, he said, is that the 30- day grace period is too short. Some drivers can receive the notice of infraction days after it is issued and they have less than a week to get a check to the city on time.
“Missing the deadline to pay a ticket can also lead to the suspension of driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations and being hounded by debt collectors,” Townsend said. “The fear of doubling fines forces some drivers to pay tickets they feel they didn’t deserve. But by doing so, they forfeit the right to fight or appeal the fine.”
Townsend also argues that the doubling of traffic fines does not improve traffic safety, while he cites research showing that high traffic fines and fees have a disproportionate impact on lower-income residents. AAA, which supports the measure, only hopes it expands to cover Maryland and Virginia residents if it’s enacted, Townsend said.
It’s unclear how much the city stands to lose if the measure is approved, but at a recent oversight hearing, White said a city financial official said the revenue from traffic tickets is not needed to balance the budget.
White said for now his top priority is to address the concerns of his constituents, who often bring up the cost of traffic tickets.
“This is going to affect all residents especially poor people who have multiple children to take care of and are trying to get to and from work,” White said. “It is going to be an opportunity for residents to put more money into their pockets.”