Parking scofflaws who have more than five unpaid parking tickets may soon find an unwelcome visitor on their car: a parking boot.
The City Council on Tuesday will consider becoming the 14th city in the United States to use these wheel blockers to recoup unpaid parking fines.
But as onerous and unfriendly as these “vehicle immobilizers” may sound, they may actually be less expensive and less inconvenient for parking scofflaws, according to a city report. Currently, those whose cars are towed because of an accumulation of unpaid tickets must 1) go down to the city’s customer service center, pay their fines, and pick up a tow release form; 2) hand-deliver the release form to the Berkeley Police Department, pay a $75 fee and pick up a vehicle release form; 3) Take that form to one of the city’s four tow lots, pay off the storage fees ($65 a day), and then, and only then, they will get back their car.
Under the new plan, when a scofflaw returns to his or her car and finds it immobilized by a boot, he or she contacts the PayLock Help Center by phone, pays the parking citations and a $140 boot-release fee with a credit card, and gets a code that unlocks the boot. The scofflaw also pays a $500 deposit for the boot, which is completely refundable when the boot is returned to a central location.
City staff estimated in a report that the average fees paid under the current system (excluding the parking tickets) is $300. That will drop to $140 for the boot system.
The city recently did a pilot program to test the parking boots and found it extremely successful. “During eight hours of system testing along routine parking enforcement routes, 54 confirmed scofflaw vehicles were identified, representing $53,111.00 in outstanding parking fees due to the City,” read the report.
The city estimates that payment of parking citations would increase by 50% in the first year of the boot program, but would probably not increase as much in subsequent years because people will pay their tickets more promptly.
The proposed contract with Paylock Inc. would run through November 2014 and would not cost the city anything, according to the staff report.
Berkeley’s 26 parking enforcement officers patrol 653 miles of Berkeley streets every day except Sunday. They write about 17,500 tickets a month. The city collects about $12,000 in parking fines a day. The parking enforcement officers currently carry hand-held devices that scan license plates and can detect scofflaws. The officers then call a tow truck to haul off the cars.