Parking and traffic fines are supposed to be a deterrent used to maintain safe streets, but they are being used by cities in California and elsewhere (e.g. Seattle, Chicago) as a source of revenue. Since the recession of 2008, parking and traffic fees, including those collected from electronic stop light cameras, have become an essential part of city budgets.
People laugh when you complain about parking tickets. But it’s not funny. A citation that was meant to be a slap on the wrist has become a real life oppression–the government is sticking their hands in our pockets.
Here’s some numbers.
The city of San Francisco, facing a $408 million deficit, collected nearly $150 million dollars in traffic and parking tickets in 2011. Parking in a street cleaning zone costs $58. Running a red light camera violation costs $436. Park in a bus lane or handicapped space? $976(!!). That’s nearly 40% of a deficit made up, not from taxing the absurdly wealthy CEOs commuting down to Silicon Valley, but from nickel and diming the average citizens trying to go about their lives.
In Los Angeles, it’s even worse. Parking fees have increased six times in the past seven years. One such increase includes an extra $100 “release fee” for towed cars. With no feasible rationale for the “release fee,” the sole excuse is purely to boost city revenue. Parking in a street cleaning spot costs $73, almost $20 more than San Francisco. Parking in a bus zone costs $293. In 2011-12, facing a deficit of nearly $250 Million, Los Angeles will raked in $153 million from 2.65 million tickets. Over 50% of the deficit was solved by citing you and me as we move about the city.
We all make mistakes. Circumstances arise. We have job interviews, doctor’s appointments, dates, meetings that go longer than we think. Sometimes we have to park illegally for a few seconds when we’re moving, or dropping off our dry cleaning. Yet the fines enforced are so high, and the enforcement so constant, that we’re treated like infallible machines.
Parking tickets are a profit center for the city, not a mechanism of safety enforcement. In LA, parking enforcement has been outsourced to a private company, Xerox State and Local Solutions, who makes big profits from over-enforcement. Such regimes are, essentially, a hidden way of taxing the middle class. True, all people face parking fines. However, the rich can afford both 1) private parking and 2) to pay the tickets that they accumulate. A $75 parking ticket has a much larger impact on a middle-class person that it does on the extremely wealthy. Instead of making revenue by taxation, Los Angeles and San Francisco are shaking down their ordinary citizens.
It’s not just the tickets that cause us Citizens pain. To follow the parking directions to a T is an near impossible task. You can’t enjoy being anywhere, or focus on a job or a meeting, without the fear that your two hours will run out. It’s enough that we are already forced to drive everywhere in LA, due to a lack of feasible public transportation options, but to have to drive around in circles squinting an indecipherable parking signs is enough to drive people crazy. Indeed it does.
It’s not just public enforcement that’s a problem. Taking their cue from public overenforcement, private entities have become equally unfair, breaking their parking fees up into 15 minute chunks that cost upwards of $3. In a truly sad case, the below picture is from Cedars Sinai HOSPITAL, where 99% of the visitors have no choice but to park. Compare this to the free parking down the street at The Grove or the Beverly Center. Garages charge oppressive rates when their patrons have no choice but to pay, but if you’re coming in as a money-spending consumer, parking is free and easy.
Many people say things like “you’re just angry that you got a parking ticket” or “stop being negative, it’s not a big deal.” But, in combination with the thousand other ways that institutions hold down and profit off the middle class, it’s enough to create a shitty life for the average person. You spend the morning arguing with a computer generated voice from your bank, the afternoon arguing with a robot-like employee of Time Warner, the evening trying to figure out health insurance that you can’t afford, and the night driving around in circles trying to figure out parking, then being terrified of getting a ticket after you’ve parked. These are what our days have become.
I’m voicing an opinion that we all have, but that we drown out because it’s too painful to think about. Nobody likes thinking about being taking advantage of, especially when it’s easier to watch TV or get high or take our happy pills. We’re taught to blame ourselves. “You’re depressed.” “You’re just moody.” “You just haven’t figured out the trick.” “You don’t work hard enough for money.” “You just parked in the wrong place for 3 minutes.” At a certain point, maybe it’s not the individual that’s the problem.
Parking may be the most clear example of middle class oppression. The same Old World indentured servitude type shit, the masses getting used up for all they have, then thrown by the wayside. We are getting swindled, plain and simple. These are our streets, and the only place the government has in running them is to make sure they run properly. Instead we’re paying with both our time and our money just to live on them.
Elected city officials are, of course, utterly silent on the issue, because they survive off the money they suck out of our pockets. There’s one guy, Phil Ting, in San Francisco, who’s running on a platform of parking reform: http://blog.sfgate.com/cityinsider/2011/01/21/phil-ting-hey-hey-ho-ho-parking-tickets-have-got-to-go/. Everyone else ignores it.
Here’s a few websites you can visit to maybe do something.