Bucks County’s Judi Space had to come to Center City last week to meet with her estate attorney, since her husband passed away suddenly in December.
She decided to make a day of it.
Space met her cousin for lunch near Washington Square. She visited with her daughter. And when she returned to her car, parked perfectly legally at 21st Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Space was shocked to find that it had been booted by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
The boot made absolutely no sense to Space, who couldn't even remember the last time she received a parking ticket in Philadelphia. "I thought that it had to be some sort of mistake," says Space.
So she pulled out her cell phone and called the phone number listed on the PPA's boot form, which was attached to her window. "They told me that the car was booted because of unpaid parking tickets from 1991," says Space. "It was a nightmare."
In point of fact, Space had a total of six unpaid parking tickets, according to the PPA. There were five from 1991 and one from 1993, with original fines ranging from $15 to $25. A 2006 ticket that Space received for an expired meter was paid within 10 days of its issuance. So, Space's car was booted due to parking tickets that were more than two decades old. Wilson Goode was still the mayor when she received most of them.
Space doesn't deny receiving the tickets way back when she was in her late 30s. But she does say that whatever tickets she got, she paid them in full. She argued with the PPA representative over the phone. "'Show us some proof,' they told me," Space remembers. "I said, 'Nobody keeps their records for that long.' And they said, 'Some people do.'"
Space realized that if she wanted to get home to Bucks County, she's was going to have to pay the fines. At the PPA representative's instructions, she tried to use an automated system to pay with a credit card, but the system wouldn't recognize the record number that the rep gave her. (Of course it wouldn't.) She called back to speak with a live person, who told her she would have to go down to that soul-sucking black hole of inhumanity and injustice: the PPA Violations Branch on Filbert Street.
"I felt like I fell down an evil rabbit hole into some bureaucratic nightmare," says Space. "Did you ever see the movie Brazil? It was like that."
A friendly cop she stopped to tell of her plight offered to drive her to Filbert Street. "While we were in his car," she says, "he told me that the Parking Authority has trucks that roam around, scanning license plates to find people with outstanding tickets." (Brazil, indeed. The PPA does have those trucks, and they scan plates of parked cars, whether or not those cars are parked illegally. In Space's case, she's had the same license plate since those old tickets were issued.)
Once at the Filbert Street location, Space explained that she wanted to pay to have the boot removed but that she also wanted to fight the tickets. "If you pay, you are are admitting guilt," she says she was told. "So I handed over my credit card. I was in tears. It's a legalized robbery mill." Space paid the PPA $483 in fines and fees.
A few hours later, the PPA removed the boot, and Space made her way home. "I sobbed for hours," she says. "What would someone do who doesn't have $500 to pay?"
Whether or not Space ever paid the original tickets back in the early ’90s, surely the statute of limitations has run out, right?
After all, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for rape is 12 years. And if you burn down someone's house (assuming you don't hurt anyone inside) or kidnap someone's child (assuming you don't take them across state lines), you cannot be prosecuted after five years.
So there's absolutely no conceivable way that it's legal for the PPA to nail a person for some measly parking tickets more than two decades after those tickets were issued, right? Please, please, please. Tell me that is correct.
According to PPA spokesperson Martin O'Rourke, the term "statute of limitations" doesn't even apply to these PPA matters, because the PPA is simply trying to collect a debt that was determined to be valid long ago. (Never mind that a full-fledged bankruptcy disappears from your credit report in seven to 10 years.)
O'Rourke says that there is a city ordinance that places a cap of 10 years on the PPA's collection efforts. But — and this is a very big but — that cap doesn't apply when the person in question is listed as a "chronic offender" or scofflaw, which is defined as anyone who owes more than $500 or has three or more outstanding tickets. And Space fell neatly into that category.
"I have always been a true lover of Philadelphia," she insists. "But I think the love affair is over." Space says that a friend suggested that she take the PPA to Small Claims Court to which I say, DO IT. Meanwhile, I think the PPA owes Space a refund. What do you think?
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