Tickets Donít Travel Well
Melissa Bean Sterzick
I like to think that most people are essentially honest. Parents teach their kids to return extra change mistakenly handed out at the cash register. We’ve all read about, and sometimes experienced for ourselves, the return of a wallet or cellphone or $50,000 left at an ATM, in an attic, or by the side of the road.
So we know there are honest folks out there. The hitch in my theory is that lots of us have a weak spot when it comes to parking tickets. And we don’t go back when the drive-through gives us an extra taco, either. At least I don’t.
The widespread evasion of paying for parking tickets was brought to my attention recently by an article that outlined the $2 million in parking fines owed to the city of Niagara Falls, NY. Yes, that’s $2 million.
And these aren’t repeat offenders who actually live in the area. They are offenders from every state in the country and a few places in Canada. New Yorkers were the worst offenders, no surprise there, followed by Ontarians Pennsylvanians and Ohioans.
I’ve often wondered how destination cities collect parking tickets from tourists. It turns out, they don’t.
All these people flock to the beautiful city of Niagara Falls, observe one of nature’s most awesome sights with its 4-million-cubic-feet-per-minute flow, ride a ferry out into the mist, and leave town without paying for their parking tickets.
I don’t know what else there is to do in Niagara, but skipping town without paying for parking tickets is high on the list, with about 100 positive reviews on Yelp.
I haven’t been to Niagara Falls myself, but if I did go there, and was unfortunate enough to be ticketed for unlawful parking, I’m sure I would do what everybody else does and split.
That said, I have never received a parking ticket while traveling. But there have been times, when away from home, that I have been uncertain about my parking decisions. Whenever that happens, I think, “Well, if I get a ticket, I won’t pay it, because I won’t be back in this city for decades or ever.” Or, “This is a rental, so nobody’s going to come looking for me.”
It’s not an approach that I’m proud of, but, really, no one who ever got a parking ticket was truly guilty. And if they were guilty, they wouldn’t really be hurting anyone by parking in the wrong spot for five extra minutes.
The thing about a parking ticket is that it’s a barely legitimate transmission. Somebody leaves it on your windshield like a flyer for a band or a new church or a restaurant called Blimpie’s Subs. You could just chuck it in the trash and pretend you never got it. You could take it to Blimpie’s and demand a 2-for-1 turkey club.
You could blot your lipstick on it or let it languish on the floor of your car until it’s gray and wrinkled. There’s nobody attached to that ticket to give it any authority – most especially if you’re from out of town.
What I’d like to say to Niagara Falls (besides, “Is there any way you can get some of that water over here to California?”) is that I think the ticket needs a face. With a tourist population that’s heavy, steady and consistently dishonest, retrieving ticket fines will require a direct stab to the conscience.
Put a picture of your best-looking enforcement officer on the ticket. “This is Officer Chauncey Morehouse. You parked illegally and now you must pay.”
Or the mayor: “We love our beautiful city. We hope you do, too. Please help us keep it beautiful by paying your parking fines.”
Or a police dog: “Braveheart will track you down no matter where you live.”
Besides the obvious technological solutions – a scanner/smartphone/do-hickey that records the license plate and VIN and attaches the ticket to the vehicle’s owner regardless of his/her address and pursues him/her with persistence – putting a face on the ticket might give people the idea they aren’t cheating just the system. It might show them they are cheating individuals, residents, a city, a landmark, and, maybe, if we’re going to be idealistic, the world.
Then again, it might not do a thing, so I’ll put out an appeal for the thousands of people who owe Niagara Falls, and any other city not their own, money for parking violations: Just pay for your tickets already!
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader,
occasional writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.