Scofflaws who don’t pay their parking tickets in Kansas City may soon regret it.
The city is setting in place a policy to encourage towing the cars of people with three or more unpaid tickets.
It’s part of an effort to beef up enforcement and make sure parking spaces turn over more regularly in front of retail establishments, especially as downtown becomes more lively and on-street parking is at a greater premium.
“The people who are habitual offenders are using the space to the detriment of others,” said Kansas City parking manager Bruce Campbell, adding that the city is finally gearing up to boost parking compliance. “That’s what this is aimed toward.”
Police already have authority under current ordinances to tow any vehicle after even one unpaid violation, but so far they have concentrated on towing vehicles that are illegally parked, blocking access or creating a hazard.
But public works officials said that in the next six to eight weeks, they will send a notice to people with three or more unresolved tickets. After that, those folks are on notice that the police have the ability to tow.
The list of habitual offenders is long. Kansas City Municipal Court Administrator Megan Pfannenstiel said an analysis of parking tickets as of late July found 2,037 people and 79 businesses (mostly vehicle leasing companies) with three or more parking warrants for unpaid tickets. A basic parking ticket for an expired meter usually comes to $50 plus $19.50 in court costs, so the unpaid revenue adds up.
“I think there are some huge offenders,” she said.
The worst individual violator on the list had 73 violations. The worst business violator had 42.
The towing effort follows on the city’s initiative to increase the writing of parking tickets, which began earlier this year. The Police Department is increasing its parking enforcement staff from two to six people and is nearly at full strength.
The additional staff is resulting in considerably more tickets. Municipal Court counted 2,400 tickets in July, compared with 1,980 in June and 980 in May.
Councilman Russ Johnson, chairman of the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said downtown shops used to think parking enforcement discouraged customers and was bad for business, but they’ve changed their tune. He said they now realize that, to support retail, they have to turn over the spaces on a regular basis and not just let people exceed the parking limits for hours on end.
Sean O’Byrne of the Downtown Council concurred, but he is also urging the city to explore another option besides towing. That would be booting, which is used in many other cities.
The “boot” is usually a clamp that immobilizes a parked vehicle by surrounding a wheel, preventing removal of both itself and the wheel.
O’Byrne points out that it is often impossible to tow a parallel-parked vehicle, but the boot can prevent a motorist from driving away until the parking tickets are paid. Once the tickets are paid, the person is given a code to unlock the boot and remove it. Although people don’t like the boot, city officials said, it’s less inconvenient and costly than having a vehicle towed.
However, the city’s Public Works Department still needs to put a boot program in place and find a third-party boot vendor before that program can begin, because police won’t do the booting. So Campbell said the towing can begin in the next few months while the booting policy is put in place.
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