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.
Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.