Baltimore goes after parking law violators Unified agency planned, partly to raise more funds

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Desperate for revenue and persuaded that the city has been too lenient with past parking enforcement efforts, Baltimore's transportation chief has ordered a crackdown on meter cheaters, double-parkers, hydrant hogs and scofflaws.

And Schmoke administration officials asked the City Council this week to approve a plan for overhauling the city's parking bureaucracy, the first step in a broader effort to dramatically increase meter revenues, parking fines and penalties.

City parking planners said they eventually expect to hire more ticket-writers and other enforcement personnel, restrict street parking near garages and, perhaps, install hundreds of new meters downtown.

Insisting that no quotas have been set, Transportation Commissioner Herman Williams Jr. confirmed recently that the city's 36 ticket-writing parking control agents, 27 point control officers -- who direct traffic but also write tickets in their spare time -- and 13 "Denver booters" were told about two months ago to get cracking.

Early this year, other officials said, the city was behind schedule in its effort to raise $7.2 million from parking fines by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

"A PCA [parking control agent] is hired to do what? That's their primary job, to write tickets," Mr. Williams said. "You as a PCA don't come back at the end of the day and tell me you only wrote 25 tickets."

And the squeeze has just begun. In its proposed fiscal 1992 budget, the Schmoke administration is asking the City Council to approve consolidation of the city's far-flung parking empire -- 12,000 meters, 8,000-permit residential parking program in 18 neighborhoods, five municipally owned public garages and lots, and various enforcement and collection units -- under a new, $61,900-a-year parking czar.

Now, management of those programs is scattered among nine agencies.

"We're just trying to become more efficient," said Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "With that increased efficiency hopefully will come increased revenue as well."

This is not the first time the city has turned to parking for new

revenue.

Between fiscal 1983 and fiscal 1991, the city government raised the cost of meters, fines and penalties several times. That increased revenues from $8.1 million to an expected $15.7 million from those sources.

Other cities have been even more aggressive.

In Boston -- which issues nine times more parking tickets per capita than Baltimore -- ticket revenues alone soared from $4 million to about $48 million between 1980 and 1991. Los Angeles has boosted its parking fine revenue from $18 million to $90 million over the past five years.

New York, with roughly 10 times the population of Baltimore, raised about $230 million in parking fines in 1990. That's 32 times the $7.2 million worth of tickets Baltimore hopes to write this fiscal year.

Baltimore's new parking management division was proposed in the fiscal 1992 budget after a two-year study by Chance Management Advisors, a Philadelphia consulting firm. "No one really manages parking," a February 1990 report by Barbara Chance said.

City officials aren't advertising the fact that they hope to squeeze more money out of parking tickets and Denver boots -- devices that immobilize vehicles of scofflaws until they pay up. But they aren't apologizing, either.

Edward Gallagher, Baltimore's budget chief, says city officials want to "make sure we're getting as much as we can from . . . parking fines." He added, "If the parking meter is around for use and you park there, you should pay for it. And if it lapses, you should be penalized."

Mr. Coleman said Mayor Schmoke has found, in talking to other mayors, that there is usually little public resistance to stepped-up parking enforcement efforts.

Enforcement agents so far don't seem to be complaining either. One, who declined to give her name, stood on a sweltering

street corner writing a ticket and said Mr. Williams "is just asking us to do our job."

But the city must keep a velvet glove on its iron-fisted enforcement, some City Council members and others caution. Overzealous ticket-writing and steep new fines could antagonize downtown merchants, corporations, visitors and voters.

"They don't mess around down there," said a college professor who moved to northern Baltimore last fall -- and promptly got stung with three parking tickets downtown in one month. The professor, who said he was too embarrassed to have his name appear in the paper, added, "It strikes me that there are an awful lot of meters around this town."

Parking rules make the city a hard place to visit for folks like the Rev. Lee Benson, 77, a retired minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who lives in northeastern Baltimore County.

Mr. Benson, who rarely visits the city, drove in recently to buy a Bible at the Maryland Bible Society on East Franklin Street. He eased his late model Chevrolet Celebrity into one parking spot, only to be warned that he was risking a $27 fine.

So he hunted around and found a meter, which cost $1 an hour -- the most expensive in the city. These meters, he found, only take quarters. (The manufacturers say that mechanical meters that charge $1 an hour can't be designed to accept smaller coins).

Mr. Benson's problems continued. He had only two quarters, which gave him only a half-hour to find the Bible society and buy his Good Book. "I'd better run," he told a reporter, and he did just that.

Revenue from Baltimore's parking empire adds up to a lot more than pocket change. Chance Management Advisors has estimated that the city cleared $13 million, after expenses, from parking lots, garages, meters and enforcement in 1989.

In a May 1990 report, the consultant also said that more RTC aggressive

and better-coordinated parking enforcement could reap at least $2.5 million annually in new revenue for the city -- the equivalent of about 3 cents on the $5.95 tax rate.

Among the steps Chance recommended were:

* Adding about 500 new meters to downtown streets, which would mark the first time the number has increased above 12,000 in about a decade, city officials said.

* Hiring new parking control agents and concentrating more manpower downtown, where there is a surplus of illegal parkers.

Now, the Chance study said, too many of the city's agents are deployed in neighborhoods such as Fells Point, Pimlico and Bolton Hill to enforce resident parking permit programs -- where there are fewer tickets to be written.

* Towing more cars.

* Using stepped-up enforcement to encourage motorists to use downtown garages, a number of which are city-owned.

The Chance Management study estimates this could increase munici

pal garage revenues by 5 percent. (Budget officials say those facilities have shown disappointingly slim profits.)

Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd, a member of the city's Off-Street Parking Commission, supports raising revenue through parking enforcement and calls parking spaces valuable city assets.

He does not like the fact the mayor's reorganization plan calls for hiring 44 new managerial, technical and clerical personnel -- but no new parking agents, booters or towers. (One city parking planner said the mayor plans to ask for new parking enforcement agents later).

"More council members would support it if it called for hiring enforcement personnel," Mr. Landers said.

Mr. Williams said in general the city needs more agents, booters and higher parking fines. But he's going to wait for his new parking division to study those issues before making any specific recommendations to the mayor.

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