Ask anyone who lives in a city and they'll tell you a good parking space can be a prime piece of real estate. In metro Boston, as well as Chicago and New York, spaces are marked as owned by intrepid land-grabbers with lawn chairs, furniture and the occasional savage dog. Something as good as a prime parking spot is worth fighting for.
Cities think the same, too. But they protect their spaces with a different tactic -- they hit the wallet. However, just how much they hit the wallet is a complex alchemic formula balancing revenue generation and behavioral science. Some cities come up with gold while others are left with lead. Prices can range from about $10 to $20 in New Hampshire cities, to more than $50 in areas of metro Los Angeles.
And this leads to the question of an average price of a parking ticket, which, in turn, leads to the answer, "It depends." But there are a few constants among the variables.
First off we'll take the idea of a parking ticket being one issued for an expired meter, as opposed to parking in a no-standing zone, fire lane or a car illegally parked in a handicapped spot. Those have different fee structures, though a similar logic.
According to city parking manager Brandy Stanley, the foundation for an expired meter fee is based roughly on the hourly rate. Stanley, who works for the city of Manchester, N.H., said the expired meter fee has to be more than what the hourly rate comes to over a typical eight- to 10-hour day. "If your hourly rate is 75 cents people can park all day, assuming a 10-hour day for $7.50," Stanley said. "The expired meter fee has to be more expensive than that or people will just ignore it."
How much more expensive is where the science ends and more of the alchemy enters the formula. Stanley said the idea behind Manchester's expired meter fee was to change parking behavior in the downtown area of the city. "It's to keep people from parking on the street all day, every day," she said.
The "people" she refers to are the workers in the downtown area; lawyers, shop owners, employees, essentially people who work in that section of the city. Instead, she said the fee should deter enough daily parkers to open up spaces for the shoppers, who need those spaces to buy goods and services from the businesses. It's this logic, she said, that's often the hardest to make people understand. "People think if you raise [expired meter] rates it will hurt the businesses," she said. "We're actually trying to help them."
Of course, the rates also generate revenue for the parking enforcement department to pay meter readers and other staff, something Stanley said was necessary, but secondary to the idea of changing parking behavior. "If you raised rates too much, you could hurt business instead," she said.
Parking Tickets: How much is too much?
Think about coming out of a store after popping in for a few essentials and finding a ticket on your windshield for $50. In parts of Chicago this is common, and with an hourly rate of anywhere from $1.25 to more than $4, the expired parking meter fees have inspired outrage.
Mike "The Parking Ticket Geek," who chooses to remain anonymous, has spent the last two decades as a writer and journalist working in and around the city of Chicago. In that time he said he accumulated an estimated 200 to 300 parking tickets -- they represent an estimated total cost of anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.
About five years ago, after discovering many of his tickets were being written on unsound grounds, he began fighting them. In 2008 he started TheExpiredMeter.com, the go-to Web site for fighting tickets and parking ticket information in the Chicago area. "People needed a site like this," Mike said.
Much of his ire was directed at the cost of the ticket. "I think they could get the same effect for $25," he said. "Fifty dollars is just too much."
Like Brandy Stanley predicted, Mike's site is rife with comments from people talking about how they'll simply get what they need -- from entertainment to everyday essentials -- from businesses outside the city proper. "It's just a way for [the city] to make revenue," Mike said. "The tickets were even issued by the Department of Revenue."
While most large metropolitan areas toe the parking fee line somewhere between Manchester and Chicago, fees jump considerably when safety, or a strict new law, is at hand.
In Manchester, Stanley said parking in a handicap space without a pass can net a driver a $250 ticket. Park in the same space with a forged or misused pass -- it's your mother's and you borrowed the car, for instance -- and it'll set a driver back $500. And they may face further charges, too. "We don't want people to park in those spaces, so the fees are much higher to discourage them," Stanley said.
However, finding this information can be a challenge. Manchester's Web site is relatively clear, as is New York City (where prices range from $35 to $65), but Los Angeles is a quagmire of varying rates and prices. Since fees are technically a legal penalty they're set down in the municipal code. Some states define a municipality as a city, or a county, or sometimes they vary depending on the severity of the crime. Los Angeles, made up of several smaller cities, has left the codification of parking fees to each municipal entity, creating a patchwork of fees.
In the end, if you're not planning on paying by the hour in a city, expect to shell out about $40 for a parking ticket on average, but keep an extra $40 on hand for contingencies. Or you could just feed the meter and avoid the ticket altogether.
For more information about parking tickets, the cost of car ownership and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
- Mike "The Parking Ticket Geek." Personal Interview. Conducted on July 30, 2010.
- Oklahoma Historical Society. "Oklahoma Journeys: First Parking Meter, 1935." April 7, 2007. (July 27, 2010)http://www.okhistory.org/okjourneys/parkingmeter.html
- Stanley, Brandy. Parking manager for the city of Manchester, N.H. Personal Interview. Conducted on July 26, 2010.
- TheExpiredMeter.com. (July 30, 2010)http://theexpiredmeter.com/