Confusing Sign, 0; Little Guy, 1


Confusing Sign, 0; Little Guy, 1

I recently achieved the dream of many New Yorkers. I beat a NYC parking ticket. After circling the Financial District on a Sunday afternoon for nearly 15 minutes, my friend and I spent another five minutes trying to understand the parking signs. Despite the four academic degrees we have between us, I got a ticket for $115.

I submitted my ‘Not Guilty’ plea along with numerous photos of the signs and streets, plus an affidavit explaining why I believed my parking ticket should be dismissed.

Thirty days later, victory. For the little guy, this is a great David vs. Goliath story. But what does it mean for all the municipalities that are managing a force of traffic enforcement officers, meters, payment systems, labor to process the violations, and a judicial system to handle disputes, and trying to balance all that with making customers happy?

I talked with several Directors of Parking, who agreed the ultimate goal is to change behavior, with revenue generation being a secondary issue. If people understand and appreciate the rules, and the rules work, people will comply. Parking will be available at the rate people are willing to pay (including free parking), enforcement will be less, and customer satisfaction will increase.

Given that, what can municipalities do to improve drivers’ experience so they are fully informed about how not to get a parking violation, and then ensure that all violations are valid and unlikely to be dismissed?

Location of Signs

In New York City, a block may be governed by multiple parking signs. Arrows indicate where the sign should be applied, until the next sign appears. If there is one sign on the block, that sign governs. But you have to know how this works; it’s not displayed anywhere. In some local suburbs, rules regarding overnight parking are posted at the town limits, rather than on each street.


In dense, urban areas, each sign can display the entire block and where that particular sign applies. Better yet, have two-three signs per block to let drivers know there could be a different rule down the street. But are the manufacturing and installation cost too high for customer satisfaction? You wouldn’t do that in suburban areas, where residents certainly would object.

Clear Language on Signs

Signs can be hard to decipher, with the different rules for commercial and passenger vehicles and the varying days and times. According to one Director of Parking Operations for a West Coast city, “often there are complex goals that generate complex parking restrictions. Sometimes the signage is the best it can be to achieve the policy goals.” 

Accurate Placement of Signposts

Signs must be placed so they show the direction of the parking rule. In my case, one of the parking signs was blown by the wind so I couldn’t tell if it applied to my street or the perpendicular street. If the sign showed the entire street and where this particular sign is, then I could not have claimed that it was confusing.

Traffic Enforcement Must Submit an Accurate Ticket

Information needs to be input correctly: date, time, correct corresponding street address, vehicle details, violation. In many municipalities, if any of this information is incorrect or missing, the ticket can be dismissed.

Fix Broken Meters

With the old “dumb” meters, you’d know a meter was broken only if it were reported by Collections, Enforcement or a customer, and there was no way to know for how long the meter had not been working. Many municipalities dismiss overtime parking meter tickets for up to 14 days before a broken meter is identified. The newer “smart’ meters that accept credit cards are typically monitored offsite, and a software problem can be fixed immediately. A hardware problem can be fixed within the time frame set by the municipality.

What’s Next?

When drivers understand that regulations are created to ensure that parking is available when and where they want it – at an appropriate cost – and that the regulations are easy to understand, then they will follow the rules and will be much less likely to dispute a ticket.


Margot Tohn is the Founder of Park It! Guides (, which connects drivers and new technology with garage operators to grow the parking business. She can be reached at



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Margot Tohn
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