Toys for Tickets, Essays for Tickets


Toys for Tickets, Essays for Tickets

Last month, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the city of Boston set forth an interesting and creative initiative to gather gifts and toys for needy children. Any non-public-safety parking ticket written on city streets between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 could be paid off with the donation of an unwrapped non-violent toy of equal or greater value than the fine amount.
This “Toys for Tickets” event has been going on for 19 years now, and was launched by current Mayor Thomas M. Menino in 1993, his first holiday season in office. In 2010, over a 10-day collection period, the city gathered $3,495 worth of donated toys.
Three locations were set up for transactions: the parking clerk’s office, the city tow lot, and a mobile command center in the downtown area on Saturdays only. Drivers had to bring their tickets and a receipt for the toys. Public safety violations excluded from the program, meaning cash payments are still required, were parking in the way of handicapped ramps; parking in handicapped or disabled veteran spots; blocking fire hydrants; parking in crosswalks; double parking; parking less than 20 feet from an intersection; parking in a fire lane; and being in a no stopping and standing zone.
I was intrigued by this strategy, and thought it an ingenious way to give offenders an opportunity to right a wrong in a way more tangible than just writing a check. People who park illegally really are breaking the law. Even though they tell themselves they are hurting no one, the cost of enforcing parking regulations is part of the overhead we all pay to live in this country.
Donating toys is an excellent punishment. Whatever sense of retribution they mig ht feel by participating in such a worthy cause will be in no way proportional to the pocketbook pain invoked by the price of today’s hottest playthings: a $100 American Girl doll, a $200 Wii console, a $65 tricycle.
If the cost is no affliction, the agony of stepping foot in the messy and manic jungle that is Toys ‘R’ Us during the holiday season (and any other season) is torture enough to be a fitting penalty for any type of misdemeanor and several nonviolent felonies.
It seems the parking industry, especially municipalities, could apply this program in so many variations. I thought of several other ways that parking offenders could pay off their fines.
Homework: Write a 1,500 word essay on why you parked illegally and what you will do to avoid breaking the law in the future.
For some individuals, explaining their actions is quite painful. I know I could wax quite poetic on the subject of the many mistakes and misdeeds I make each day, and at the end of the essay, I believe my audience would be fairly sympathetic, if not completely dissolved in a puddle of tears. But ask my husband to write about his motives and feelings in regard to any activity, vehicular or otherwise, and he would suffer greatly.
Manual labor: Spend a number of hours, paid at minimum wage, equivalent to the price of your ticket, cleaning the gum off city sidewalks, picking up trash on the roadways, helping the garbage man complete his route or following the horses at the next city parade.
This is a lot like community service, a program already in place that probably costs a lot to administer; however, think of the deterrent. Parking scofflaws believe they’ve committed an anonymous crime. It’s not so anonymous when you’re carrying a neon-orange trash bag on the side of the freeway.
Civic duty: Attend a city council meeting every month at $10 per month until you’ve earned enough to pay off your ticket. You must stay awake. You must surrender your smartphone at the door.
It’s hard to imagine anything more boring than a city council meeting, unless it’s church. But it’s enlightening to see how a city council operates; how the members make it boring on purpose so you won’t come and they can pass laws and resolutions without interference. Either way, you leave with a sense of gratitude – happy that it’s over, glad someone cares about the telephone pole on Avenue B, and pleased that you have never felt the need to hold public office.
I could go on and on thinking of ways the parking industry could inspire parking lawbreakers to mend their ways. Offering creative consequences is an idea I support wholeheartedly. No doubt, every city has a pet project that could benefit from the concentrated focus of 500 parking offenders.

Melissa Bean Sterzick is PT’s proofreader, author, and amateur parker. She can be reached at

Article contributed by the Parking PT team.
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