Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Washington, D.C. issues more than 350 parking tickets an hour

December 29, 2011 - 02:40 PM
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Tickets everywhere. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

If you drive in the District, AAA Mid-Atlantic has some numbers that will crush your holiday spirits. The auto club has collected the statistics about how D.C. fined its drivers in the fiscal year 2011 and in the first quarter of the new fiscal year of 2012, which began in September.

The numbers, frankly, speak for themselves, and AAA freely employs well-used exclamation points in describing the extreme number of citations given out, well above cities of similar size. The auto club seized on a parking ticket statistic that the D.C. Department of Public Works quietly released in a Dec. 22 press release about ticketing food trucks and subsequently expanded on an alarming trend of rampant ticketing, one that's been growing and noticed for years, in its own Dec. 28 release.

How depressing are the numbers? Here's what AAA tells us:

• In the fiscal year of 2011, D.C. gave out 1.6 million parking tickets ... an average of 126,720 a month, 31,680 a week, 5,280 a day, 352 an hour, and nearly six per minute. Jesus. This is far higher than what was granted in the previous year: 1.54 million tickets.

• Since the fiscal year of 2012 began in September, D.C. has given out 315,000 tickets for the first quarter.

• AAA predicts that the city will receive more than $80 million for all the tickets given in the fiscal year of 2011, higher than ever before.

• Parking violations are legion and include distance from the curb to parking in a crosswalk to parking in an emergency route. With close to 17,200 parking meters, the District is ready to hit you with its fines.

• Parking enforcement personnel are busy, according to AAA: "The average fleet-footed, eagle-eyed parking officer issu[es] around 26.5 parking tickets each day."

How just are these citations and how should the District's drivers respond to the numbers? Does this seem fair? As much of an advocate for transit, car-free incentives, and traffic safety, I don't see this barrage of tickets as just so much as punitive. I've personally known people who have been fined hundreds of dollars in parking tickets, and these complaints are more than vindicated by these numbers.

On top of this revenue is the money earned from red-light and speeding cameras, which also issued tens of thousands of tickets and netted the District several million dollars in the past year.

The numbers reflect a trend that appears not to reflect changing transportation habits of drivers or a renewed need for traffic justice so much as cities' attempts to shore up money for their coffers. "Municipalities across the USA are turning to more aggressive parking enforcement and higher parking fines to shore up declining revenue," USA Today noted back in July, 2009, echoing sentiments delivered far earlier in 2004. The New York Times observed a similar trend in New York in a 2008 article, describing how, when looking at the numbers, "a portrait emerges of how the city, increasingly starved for revenue, has energetically raised money and moved traffic by increasing the number and cost of tickets it issues each year."

I looked back at recent years, and complaints about D.C.'s excessive ticketing policies go back at least half a decade. A 2006 Examiner piece by Michael Neibauer described D.C. as "more prolific at ticketing and booting vehicles than other comparable U.S. jurisdictions." Back then, he was considering the fiscal year of 2005, a time when the District wrote 1.47 million parking tickets to the tune of $55 million. 

Now, in the 2011 fiscal year, the District issued more than 1.6 million tickets that netted likely well over $80 million. Quite a change for a mere half decade, no?

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