Passive and sometimes not-so-passive resistance to parking regulations in downtown Toledo is costing the city a bundle and undermining the purpose of parking meters, which is to encourage turnover of parking spaces.
Many of the worst offenders are downtown workers, including employees of law-enforcement agencies. The city could collect as much as $400,000 a year if it got tough with habitual parking meter scofflaws. A Blade investigation shows that some 53,000 people are refusing to pay nearly 170,000 parking tickets.
Whether the tickets are issued by Toledo police, or employees of ParkSmart, the agency which monitors meters and city-owned parking garages, the collection results are mediocre at best. ParkSmart has more than $100,000 in uncollected tickets, but city police officers have written $299,000 worth of tickets that remain uncollected.
For some people dodging the parking gendarmes is a kind of game. Sometimes they take the tickets to Municipal Court, which is ill equipped to handle parking ticket cases in light of caseloads in other areas of law-breaking. Some scofflaws eventually pay up, others push to see how far they can go, yet others mean to pay but don't, and on it goes.
One downtown employee cited in a Blade story has 353 unpaid tickets-a potential liability of more than $3,500.
It is patently unfair to those who pay to allow scofflaws to escape their due. From anecdotal evidence, it appears that the parking authority does not have the best handle on its records. Some people owe more in fines than is recorded in the files.
Columbus collects 71 percent of the fines on the 139,000 tickets its law enforcers write, netting that so-called metropolis more than $3.3 million. Columbus is one of several cities which uses a system called DETER, under which a hold may be placed on vehicle registration. That should be as effective a device as any to discourage scofflaws. Columbus sends sharply worded notices to parking violators, even out-of-town ones.
For this to happen, a parking violation must be a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor, as it is in Toledo. While other avenues of enforcement should be explored, including booting of vehicles, Toledo City Council should take steps to make parking violations civil offenses. It makes a good deal more sense, would ease a burden on criminal courts, and, judging by the experience in other cities, can yield results.