Parking Ticket Amnesty Is a Really Bad Idea

Is there no personal accountability left in this world?

Image via iStockPhoto

This weekend, I’m going to head out to the King of Prussia Mall to do some last-minute Christmas shopping.

I’ll buy my kids the latest Xbox, the Lego Ultimate Collector Series Millennium Falcon, and a new wardrobe for each of them at the mall’s finest clothiers. For my wife, some diamonds, a full Le Creuset set, and the $19,000 embellished kimono-sleeve fur-trimmed coat at Gucci.

Oh, it doesn’t matter that I can’t actually afford to buy any of this on my journalist’s salary, because a few years from now, my creditors are just going to say: That’s OK, Mr. Fiorillo. You don’t have to pay those old bills.

Of course, this fantasy of mine is just that — a fantasy. It will never actually happen, because credit card companies and banks are really smart about the way they do business. Philly, not so much.

The other day, City Council voted in favor of a parking ticket amnesty bill. Here’s how it would work.

If you’ve received a bunch of parking tickets over the last several years that you haven’t bothered to pay, you can just forget about all of the fines and penalties associated with any tickets that predate 2013, assuming you pay the more recent ones.

And if all of your outstanding tickets were incurred before 2013 — let’s say you’ve been well-behaved since, or maybe you just got rid of your car — you can write out a $50 check to the Philadelphia Parking Authority and get on with your life. If the bill were to become law, you’d have from March 1st until April 30th of 2018 to sign up for the program.

The premise is that poor people are being saddled with long-overdue fines that they’re never going to be able to pay, but the bill does nothing to single out perfectly well-off drivers who just park wherever they want and ignore the law.

Parking ticket amnesty is a nice idea in a world of puppy dogs and pigtails, but in the reality of broke-ass Philadelphia, it’s dumb. It’s bad business.

According to a recent report by Pennsylvania auditor general Eugene DePasquale, Philadelphians have failed to pay $580 million in parking ticket fines and associated penalties since 1990. And over the last few months, the PPA has gotten more aggressive with scofflaws; the number of cars booted for old unpaid tickets increased dramatically.

So, you walk outside your house one crisp autumn morning only to find a big yellow boot on your car. It’s infuriating. You curse at the heavens.

Yeah, it sucks, but guess what? It’s your fault. You parked illegally. And then you parked illegally again. And then you parked illegally a third time. And then, after you parked illegally all those times, you ignored all the notices that came in the mail for each of those unpaid tickets. You threw the reminders in the trash. We know this, since the PPA can only boot cars that have three or more unpaid tickets. And now your car has been booted or towed.

That’s called consequences.

But City Council doesn’t think you should have to face those consequences. They seek to remove all personal accountability from the equation, causing the city to potentially miss out on many millions of dollars of revenue in the process.

Mayor Kenney is against the bill. And you should be too. Well, unless you have a bunch of old unpaid tickets.