99 Percent of Philly Parking Tickets Are Perfectly Legit

Or at least that’s the percentage of tickets that stick.

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If you live in Philadelphia or park in it on occasion, you necessarily hate the Philadelphia Parking Authority and its trolling band of uniformed parking enforcers, who make your life miserable with their little handheld parking ticket generators and their unique inability to offer an ounce of human compassion or empathy. But the thing is, they’re almost always right.

Earlier this week, crusty Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky offered the world a story about a man who supposedly got a parking ticket before he even had a chance to get out of the car and feed the meter. It was one of those generic “The PPA Sucks!” PPA-indictment stories that pop up on a fairly regular basis and that are always good for lots of righteous indignation. As of Thursday morning, Bykofsky’s story had generated over 150 comments.




But I was unmoved, because all Bykofsky had was one man's word that this had happened, and in my experience with people and their parking tickets, either people lie outright or the truth is somewhere in the middle. Or they outwardly admit that they were "technically" in the wrong but that they still shouldn't have received a ticket and that, oh yeah, THE PPA SUCKS!

On Bykofsky's Facebook page under the story, I posted the following comment: "The Philadelphia Parking Authority does a great job. Very efficient. 99.9% of the tickets they give out are legit."

It's no surprise that I didn't get any "likes" for my defense of the city's most loathed entity. Instead, I got people challenging that number. Of course, that faux statistic was meant only for the sake of hyperbole, so I thought I would look into it a bit more. And it turns out that I wasn't far off.

In 2013, 1,535,531 parking tickets were issued in Philadelphia proper. Of those, 106,942 — just 6.9 percent — were contested.

Of the contested parking tickets, 17,816 were dismissed--less than 17 percent of those contested. 6,316 were dismissed through online hearings, 11,437 at in-person hearings, and another 63 were dismissed on appeal in Common Pleas Court, the last option that a citizen has. That leaves 1,517,715 tickets that had to be paid, meaning that 98.84 percent of all parking tickets in Philadelphia stick. We'll just go ahead and call it 99 percent. Of course, that level of accuracy assumes two things.

First, it assumes that everyone who has a bogus ticket contests it, which is certainly not the case. An expired meter ticket is $36, and no doubt plenty of people would rather just pay the fine (but you better do it within a month, or you'll wind up owing an extra $55 in fines — more than the ticket!) than deal with the hassle. But if you're going to admit to something that you didn't do just for the sake of convenience, well, you lose your right to complain about it.

And it also assumes that the hearing process for contested tickets is flawless, and as a person who has sat through a few hearings (I was actually removed from one by an armed guard after I didn't get the response that I wanted), I can assure you that it is not.

If you want to contest your ticket, you had better have incontrovertible proof that you didn't break the law. It doesn't matter if the ticket is wrong. It matters if you can prove that it is wrong.

This is not criminal court, where you have the presumption of innocence and where the state has an obligation to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Quite the opposite. The City of Philadelphia Department of Revenue's Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, which handles the hearings and which is about as bureaucratic as it sounds, assumes that you're guilty, and the burden is on you to demonstrate that you're not. And that's a standard that's pretty hard to live up to.

It's not great, but that's the process we have. And, hey, it's not like you're facing two years in the slammer or anything.

So, yes, there are legitimate stories of people wrongly being issued parking tickets, but few and far between. The fact of the matter is that if you walk out to your car and see that little white and blue slip of paper under your windshield wiper, chances are it was your fault — not the PPA's. So go ahead and swear up a storm, go blue in the face, and shake your fists at the heavens. And then just pay the damn ticket.

(PHOTO: PPA)

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  • Alex

    Although your numbers tell a story, out of those 1mil tickets each year, how many of them are given to out of state plates? That number will tell a larger story of how the PPA attempts to ticket easier “targets” at higher ticketed prices, in the range of $76 per ticket. They understand and bet that most tourists or visitors will just pay the ticket, knowing they cannot spend the time to appeal. That is where my issues stem, the PPA’s ability to take advantage of a system unknown by those who visit. Now, I know some of these tickets are legit, but other people will not contest based off of their lack of knowledge or time of having to go through the several month long processes of an appeal. And don’t get me started about their online appeal or the process of having to appeal an appeal. The PPA’s numbers might correctly give a perspective that they do a good job, but it is more likely showing a) what a ridiculous number of tickets they hand out, b) how much paper they waste, and c) how many people they know how to take advantage of.

    • Ben – Bella Vista

      Alex, where are the facts to back up these targeting claims? It’s possible that tourists get more tickets because they are just less aware of parking rules, correct?

      • rebecca

        Several reporters have tried to FOIA PPA’s ticket database several times, but have not been successful.

        • Ben – Bella Vista

          Have they reported on theses attempts? Or is this more conjecture.

      • Alex

        Ben, tickets are definitely handed out more so to unaware drivers and those who aren’t as knowledged or as experienced to our parking regulations and rules (which makes total sense). Some are likely in the wrong, my claims were more on the point that the number of tickets this post states are correct (valid tickets) the PPA administers is probably an overly high percentage because people don’t fight the ticket, whether it be due to laziness or out of state visitors not having the time or patience to appeal a PPA ticket which usually takes three to six months.

        • jg

          Obviously if you aren’t experienced to the parking regulations you’re going to get a ticket……so what’s the point

    • ambiguator

      PPA’s ability to take advantage of a system unknown by those who visit

      Are you specifically talking about illiterate drivers?
      There are signs just about everywhere.

      If the tourists can’t understand the signs, they could just as easily park in a garage.

    • Michel S

      Philadelphia offers plenty of alternatives to driving for our visiting tourists/out-of-towners. We have an extensive rail network, high-speed subway/elevated service, an impressive fleet of trolleys & buses, taxis, sightseeing tours companies, and we’ve been called one of the nation’s most walk-able cities so many times it’s practically cliche. With all these options in place, if you choose to drive, you assume the responsibility to follow the rules, even if you are not familiar with them. You don’t get a pass just because you didn’t know any better. And if you’re truly so paranoid to believe the PPA is targeting you because you’re not a local, then maybe you shouldn’t be on the road anyway.

      • Joseph

        Well, you have to park your car SOMEWHERE when you drive to the city. There’s no “extensive rail network” near my town. Why should I pay extra for a bus or taxi, when I already have a car? I could park in a parking deck, at a costly rate. Oh well, that $20 bill was just taking up space in my wallet anyway!

        • Michel S

          No, you don’t HAVE to park your car somewhere, you CHOOSE to park your car somewhere, because you CHOOSE to drive into the city. You’re not a victim. You are a capable, intelligent human being who makes his own decisions, and are therefore subject to the consequences of said decisions if they turn out to be poor.

          • Joseph

            OK Mike, so I’ll stay out of your crummy city. That way I won’t be a “victim,” as you call it. I reside north of Pottstown, so it’s basically drive or stay out of Philly. Enjoy your pathetic city life!

          • Michel S

            Ok, thanks, I will do my best. Glad to see you’ve made a decision, and I really hope it works out for you. Enjoy your life in/around Pottstown!

  • Pee Bee

    I have witnessed a person getting a ticket as he was purchasing a ‘coupon’ to place on his dashboard. They were ticketing him before he could even walk back to his car with the ‘coupon”. The guy was pissed and rightfully so. He had a hand cart with boxes in front of his car. All the PPA employee had to do was look a few car-lengths and they would have seen him purchasing the coupon from their device.

  • ambiguator

    Can we please stop talking about the old troll who shall not be named writes for philly dot com? Every utterance of his name gives his soapbox of hatred more credence.

  • SNJ_Native

    17816 tickets dismissed for 2013. That means that 48 TIMES A DAY, PPA meter maids make a mistake doing their incredibly simple and easy job. 48 TIMES A DAY. MINIMUM, because know that far more than 17816 tickets are written erroneously. PPA is pathetic.

    • SAM

      48 times a day, on 8 different shifts, 100+ different beats across the entire city, and countless different PEOs.

      I’m sorry, you’re obviously the one person in the world who is infallible and never made a single mistake on their job. We should all be so good at what we do. Bravo. You must be so proud.

  • connieD

    you break the law, get a ticket. walking up to the car while ppa is writing a ticket…oh well, should have showed up 10 minutes sooner. meters are to help turn cars over. for as much as store owners complain about no parking on their street, imagine how they would complain if all the EMPLOYEES were allowed to park there all day.
    hate the PPA, park in a garage.

  • c n

    Instead of bashing the PPA for being brutally efficient and good at what they do, everyone should instead bash the rest of Philadelphia government for not achieving the same level of competence and results.

  • IndyinPhilly

    Interestingly enough, most of the tickets handed out in center city are invalid under state law, especially any tickets issued in a handicap parking space. Fun, but little known fact – one that I’d love for the philly mag to write a story about. The basics are this – There are federal guidelines on traffic signs (this includes parking, loading, ect). These guidelines were signed into law by PA. The idea is to have a standard, uniform set of signs, and not have every state, city, or township create different looking signs (which is, sadly, what Philly has done in the cc area). That way if you are in CA, but from Phiily, you don’t have play a guessing game when you go to park (for the most part). The law standardizes things like size and color of the signs. Its the reason why most handicap signs, everywhere you go look exactly the same. Except in Center City Philly, where the handicap spaces are inexplicably placed at different heights, on a small 2×2 sign that is placed significantly lower than any of the parking signs. One can think of no logical reason for the way Philly marks these spots, if not to trick people in to accidentally parking there. In any case, the cc signage does not meet state law requirements, and the city has never bother to get itself an exemption for its signs from the state. So, after this attorney’s (who happened to know about the Fed. Uniform Traffic code) friend accidentally parked in a handicap zone (seriously, 4 people missed the tiny handicap sign), got a ticket, and did a little research, I had the ticket dismissed. Since then, I’ve had multiple tickets (for other individuals) from cc dismissed for the exact same same reason. This is not to say that everyone should go on an illegal parking binge in cc. But that many, many of those PPA tickets are illegal in the first place, regardless of whether or not people pay or contest them.

  • SAM

    The fact** is that the PEOs don’t “target” out of state plates. They walk up and down the streets on their particular beat looking for those who are violating the parking laws. They hand out tickets to those in violation. Is it true that more of the folks in violation aren’t locals? Yes. Does that mean they’re being targeted? No. It means they don’t feel the need to educate themselves (by looking up at a sign, or down at the sidewalk or street, as the case may warrant). If you don’t want to get a ticket in Philadelphia, there is a very simple solution. Don’t violate the parking laws. Read the signs. Feed your meter. Stay away from fire hydrants, and for your wallets’ sakes DO NOT park in a handicap space if you don’t have a visible placard.

    As for the “heartless, soulless” PPA, those making these statements are just bitter. I know for a fact** that if you catch the PEO before they complete your meter ticket, they can take it back and most will. They WILL NOT take back any other kind of ticket, not because they want to make your life miserable, but because they can’t. It’s not possible. They don’t have the authority.

    I also know that it personally affects some of these men and women when you “heartless, soulless” bullies attack them verbally, sick your dogs on them, spit on them, throw things at them, etc. Who are you to think you’re above them? Because you don’t feel like walking an extra block or two, or paying for a parking lot, you should be given special privileges just because you want them? Well, this is America after all. I suppose we should gift you those privileges along with everything else that comes so easily to some people.

    Lastly, for the folks who proclaim on a daily basis that these PEOs, tow truck drivers, booters, etc. need to “get a real job”, I assure you that their job is just as valid, if not more so, than yours. They slog through the rain, trudge through the snow, sweat through the heat, and they don’t make a single penny more if they write 10 tickets or 50 per shift. So think before you speak, and please educate yourselves on the facts.

    **I say fact because I have two relatives in the PPA and I hear the stories every single night.

  • Ashley Greed-Franklin

    6.9% were contested but how many people like myself pay the stupid $31 dollars because we can’t afford a day off to dispute it…. Last I checked the PPA shouldn’t be issuing tickets since state law says you must be a sworn officer to issue tickets and they are NOT sworn officers!!

  • Ashley Greed-Franklin

    and by the way… just because I didn’t dispute my bogus ticket I didn’t lose the right to complain about it… I’m complaining about it right now!!! The fact of the matter is that most people will NOT dispute it off of principal alone because we live in a system where you lose your job for excessive absence and the majority of people weigh that principle against their paid time off, work situation, and home situation….. More often than not principle comes second to everything else out of necessity which exactly how the system is designed to work!!

    • jr

      Blah blah blah……bet if you got points against your license you’d fight the ticket

  • tmgre

    Many neighboring towns even offer a merciful 10 minutes grace period before the officer will leave a love note on your car. Imagine that! The PPA officers are usually writing the ticket before the meter expires simply because it is more convenient for them to do it then rather that having to swing back around. This happens more often than not. I have seen this happen many times. These people are motivated in the wrong manner. The emphasis should be placed on moving parking traffic along not on scaring tourists out of our city!! Common sense is surely missing here!! I am blaming the managers and trainers not the officers themselves. That type of aggressive merciless philosophy starts at the top!! Where oh where does all of that money go???!!!

  • Bobby

    This article as well as the PPA is pathetic joke. The agency is just as corrupt as traffic court. There are many people who don’t even bother to contest these tickets like myself because we feel its a waste of time or we don’t really have a choice.

  • Bobby

    I once parked my car and got out to go look at the posted hours on the poll and when I turned around PPA was already writing me a ticket. Pleaded with him and he told me to contest it. I asked how? It was his word against mines. He smiled and walked away. As the article state you would need irrevocable proof. What was I to do? Go to each of the local businesses and obtain video proof? And that’s if they have video cameras and we’re willing to help me. Of course I just paid the ticket. PPA knows you really can’t obtain irrevocable proof. And because of this most will just pay up. That’s the PPA scheme.

  • Paulmazz

    The reason so many parking tickets “stick” is because it’s not worth the effort to fight them! The PPA knows that! The only reason it’s worth fighting moving violations is because of the points

  • Ray Kerstetter

    I find in some areas of the city parking is virtually impossible, but in some cases, I really would like to have my car when I need it. There are so many places you can’t park that should be open up to be able to. And what is with extended hours you have to have a coupon for, such as South St., and why meters on the numbered streets as far down as Christian? Seems like over saturation to me.