A couple weeks ago, the DC police gave me not one but two tickets for parking in an area where it is forbidden to do so from 9 AM to 1 PM. The only problem was that both tickets were issued between 11 PM and 1 AM according to the time-stamps on the tickets themselves. Fortunately, I had my digital camera with me and took photos of my car, as well as a nearby sign that clearly indicated that parking at the time I was there is legal. The fact that there were two separate tickets issued 90 minutes apart suggests that it may not have been a mere inadvertent error.
Normally, I wouldn't bother VC readers with this kind of personal gripe. However, economics blogger Megan McArdle reports that such shenanigans are part of a broader campaign by the DC government to increase ticket revenue:
At 7:30 this morning, far earlier than I normally leave my house, I was outside in flip-flops and my pajama shorts, moving my car. Nor was I the only one. My neighborhood is filled with students and people who work from home, and a whole lot of them seemed to be making U turns to park across the street.
Why was I doing this? The District of Columbia is trying to make up plummeting tax revenues by getting the money out of motorists, especially parking. It's using cameras to get 100% enforcement of the street cleaning parking rules, nearly doubling the cost of many parking tickets, and upping the bill on meters--it now costs $2 an hour to park in front of the Watergate, up from $1 last month. This is a twofer: raise more revenue from the meter, and from the parking ticket, because who carries around $4 in change on a regular basis?
Anecdotally, they've also upped the quota on parking enforcement, which used to be more of a sinecure; my mother reports that she now has three parking enforcement officers in her small neighborhood, constantly patrolling rather than (as they used to) sleeping in front of the Congressional cemetary. They've started ticketing her for being an "out of state car" persistently parked in the neighborhood. I got a ticket for having no front plate, something I didn't know was required. The district has even started ticketing people for parking in their own driveways. After their budget meeting, the city council announced plans to raise millions in new revenue by issuing an additional 200,000 tickets this year.
Urban development scholar Donald Shoup has shown that urban curbside parking spaces are often overused and misallocated because motorists don't have to pay for them. Thus, there may be an efficiency rationale for raising the price of public parking on DC streets. However, violating the law, charging people for parking in their own driveways, and trying to surprise drivers by suddenly ramping up enforcement in order to make a quick buck are not the right way to go about it. It's pretty obvious that DC is trying to use tickets as a cash cow rather than as a tool for incentivizing more efficient use of public spaces.
I sent in the photos along with a detailed written statement appealing the tickets to the DC DMV Adjudication Services. We'll see if the DC authorities have the common decency to withdraw these clearly illegal tickets. Better still, they should fine officials who issue illegal tickets rather than going after drivers who haven't broken any law. I am not optimistic that they will do either.