The Washington Post recently highlighted a website — ParkingTicket.com — that helps folks in D.C., San Francisco and New York City fight parking tickets online (“A New Recruit in the Parking Ticket Laws,” by Don Oldenburg, 02-17-04) (Thanks to Marcia Oddi at Indiana Law Blog for the pointer)
I checked out ParkingTicket.com this morning and have two reactions: (1) I’m not impressed with the value, even though you pay nothing if your parking fine isn’t reduced or dismissed; and (2) helping consumers understand the law of parking tickets is precisely the sort of task that bar associations could do very inexpensively on their websites, and through handouts, both to serve the public and to create goodwill. [Putting together parking law primers could also be a great, if unglamorous, project for law students across the nation.]
Of course, information about parking law and dealing with parking tickets belongs on court-based self-help websites — but I’m afraid that such services would run afoul of the revenue-generating purposes of most parking-enforcement schemes.
The ParkingTicket website might be perfectly acceptable to the ticketee who merely wants to contest a citation without appearing in person and doesn’t mind paying a middleman a hefty fee. But, value-conscious consumers will surely balk. Taking a look at PT’s Terms & Conditions, reveals that its “Guaranteed Dismissal Fee” is equal to half of the amount saved by the Customer (thus, the fee is $50 if a $100 ticket is dismissed). In addition, the fee is paid upfront, but is not returned until after both an initial judgment of guilt and a mandatory appeal by Parkingticket.com.
What we have is a 50% reverse contingency fee, paid in advance for a “confidential, customized dismissal letter” that is computer-generated after the customer answers a short list of questions. That’s a high price for beating a ticket you could very well have fought yourself successfully — plus, you get to subsidize the frivolous pursuits of PT’s less reponsible, scofflaw Customers.
Frankly, I’m also not impressed with PT’s philosophy. On its FAQ page, it asks “When should I fight a parking ticket and when should I just pay it?” And responds “You should fight a parking ticket whenever you feel like it. There is no rule to say you shouldn’t fight a ticket. It is your right to fight a ticket for any reason at all.” That’s not too civic minded, and hopefully not the response that a lawyer would give a client. On the topic of legal advice, ParkingTicket declares in its Terms:
13. Customer authorizes parkingticket.com to share its parking ticket and related information to outside counsel including attorneys, retired Parking Ticket Municipal Judges, retired Police and Traffic Agents and other consultants as parkingticket.com may see fit at its sole discretion. parkingticket.com is a website and not an Attorney. parkingticket.com does not give legal advice. Do not consider anything on this website as legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact an attorney.”
For some free information on parking tickets, I suggest my PrairieLaw.com article Parking Meters 101 – it has a few fun anecdotes from my own experiences with parking meters in Schenectady. Teaser: find out if you have to pay a ticket at a broken meter.
- The article also sets forth a little of my philosophy on both operating regulatory systems and paying parking tickets:
A civil society requires more than well-crafted regulations; it requires proper enforcement. The humble parking meter can teach us a lot about designing and operating a good regulatory system. Lawbreakers and whiners aside, some parking tickets are just plain unlawful or unfair — the result of poor planning, poor enforcement or both.
When I think a ticket is unfair or unlawful, I fight it, even a $5 one. In the process, I’ve discovered that more than a few meter maids and municipal lawyers need to learn some parking meter law.
In a nutshell, a parking ticket at a meter is fair if the driver failed to pay the posted fee, overstayed the time limit or parked at a prohibited time — as long as the meter is in the right spot, works correctly, is properly labeled, and neither the government nor the weather has made it unreasonable to comply.