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Delay in implementing increased parking fines cost Baltimore nearly $500,000

Baltimore missed out on collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in parking fines because city officials didn’t implement two new laws for months.

A law signed by Mayor Catherine Pugh was supposed to have increased the fine for parking in a bus lane or in front of a bus stop from $75 to $250 beginning Sept. 1. But city officials could not update their paper or electronic citations to reflect the higher fine until after Christmas.

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The result was that more than 2,500 tickets went to bus lane violators bearing the old, lower fine — losing the city more than $465,000 in fines, according to city data published on the Open Baltimore website.

A similar law that increased fines for parking in a bike lane by the same amount also took more than two months to implement. The city missed out on collecting more than $4,000 from that delay.

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City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, the lead sponsor of the bus lane bill, said he hounded administration officials for months about implementing the law. Dorsey said his intent in filing the bill was to dissuade drivers from slowing down the city’s public transportation systems, and the delay in levying the increased fine means the intended deterrent hasn’t been working.

“The administration has shown an astounding level of disrespect for the legislative branch,” he wrote recently on Twitter. “More appalling than the disrespect to partners in government is the demonstration of a clear lack of concern for transit riders and improving transportation, and half a million dollars in forgone revenue, which Baltimore clearly cannot afford.”

Although higher fines are now in effect, according to Open Baltimore, Dorsey said Friday he’s hearing reports that some traffic enforcement officers are still using the old fine.

“Some tickets are still being given out at the old rate,” he said. “I’m still getting complaints from people.”

City Finance Director Henry Raymond said Friday the fines have been updated. The delay in implementing the higher fines was caused when officials needed to “make changes to the city’s mainframe so that the higher fines can be accepted,” according to the Department of Transportation.

“The city either intentionally or unintentionally did not do the legwork to implement the increased fines as soon as they came into effect,” said Liz Cornish, the director of the advocacy group Bikemore. “I know the councilmen and transit advocates raised this issue early on. We believe the nearly half-a-million in revenue could have been directed to transportation improvements.

“We’re disappointed it took this long, but we’re happy it’s resolved,” she said.

The increased fines come as Pugh has announced an amnesty program forgiving late fees on outstanding parking fines in Baltimore.

If people with unpaid parking tickets pay the base fine on Feb. 1 or Feb. 2, late fees and other additional charges will be waived, the mayor said.

Raymond said Baltimore officials would notify eligible motorists about the amnesty program by mail.

The last time the city offered an amnesty, in 2003, about one-third of delinquent motorists paid their tickets, Raymond said. He estimated the program this year could bring in between $3 million and $4 million in previously unpaid fines.

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