Beyond “Parking Wars”: The Games PPA Plays

The daily pain of owning a car in the city

Taking shots at the Philadelphia Parking Authority is like shooting fish in a barrel while kicking a dead horse. It’s almost not fair—save for the fact that the PPA deserves every jab it gets. Back in March, Inquirer columnist Monica Yant Kinney wrote about her recent trip to the PPA’s Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, aka BAA/ticket court/10th Ring of Hell. When Kinney recalled pleasant cashiers and “have a nice days” and rainbows and unicorns, it seemed like a lucky stroke for her; not evidence of a customer-friendly trend, but proof of the “even a broken watch is correct twice a day” cliché.

Yesterday’s column by Ronnie Polaneczky in the Daily News confirmed my hunch. If you have high blood pressure or are prone to acts of violence, it’s best to tell you only the basic details: Good samaritan parks in a loading zone while trying to save a woman’s life, gets a ticket, then gets the PPA equivalent of a swirly when he tries to plead his case. Now that is the parking authority I know and loathe. Just last week, I visited the BAA over a violation that pales in comparison to the one Polaneczky wrote about, but still seemed bogus to me. My car was legally parked on Pine Street one weekend. That Monday by 10 a.m., there was a ticket on the windshield; at some point in-between, one of those white cardboard “No Parking” signs went up, prompting an eager PPA patrol goon to hit me with a whopping $76 ticket. Perhaps I should have checked my car hourly to make sure my parking spot hadn’t morphed into a tow zone overnight. Adding insult to injury, when I came back later that day to see why the signs were up, I found nothing. No construction. No cops performing urgent coply business. No PGW dudes jackhammering. No cars towed, just tickets. The day after, still nothing. The signs came down. Seemed like the only official business on that block was a PPA coffer-filling exercise.

My hearing officer at the BAA was a great listener, but as expected, his verdict was a kinder, gentler variation of “go pound sand.” I was told that if I could find a cop in my district who could corroborate my claim that there was no police business on that block of Pine Street three months ago, then I might have a case. I decided to spare myself the humiliation of strolling into my neighborhood police station and posing that question.

What I wanted to tell the hearing officer was that I once overheard two Center City contractors talking about the difficulties of parking downtown for work. One guy gave the other some advice: Just ask a cop for some of those “No Parking” signs, like the one that just cost me $76. Now every time I see those signs, I wonder who really posted them—the police, or an electrician who tacked them up five minutes ago so his F150 doesn’t get ticketed? Then there’s a list of loopholes that work in favor of the PPA. My favorite is that if you’re parked illegally at 11:55 p.m., you’re eligible for a second ticket when the clock strikes midnight. No 12- or 24-hour grace period, I was told. New day? New fine, sucker. I learned that the hard way when I gave up on finding a parking spot after over an hour of fruitless searching and resigned myself to a ticket. When I saw two on my ride the next day, it felt like a sucker punch.

That’s the unfair reality of parking downtown—the rules are played fast and loose, and the average guy has no advocate. The good samaritan was smart enough—and outraged enough—to call Polaneczky, and after she told his tale to a PPA spokeswoman, his fines were dropped. But what about the rest of us? Do me a favor, please: If you somehow get a PPA honcho on the phone, give them my number. There’s a few things I’d like to get off my chest.