Parking scofflaws to get the boot in Chattanooga

Parking scofflaws to get the boot in Chattanooga

September 30th, 2012 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

Starting Oct. 22, new parking enforcement crews will be handing out tickets for cars parked at expired meters, and owners with three unpaid tickets might find their vehicles booted.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should parking ticket scofflaws get the boot?

Beware the boot.

Once a city contract privatizing parking enforcement takes effect Oct. 22, motorists who park downtown had better make sure their meters are fed.

Because that date will mark the start of a parking crackdown, complete with the boot, for those who accumulate three unpaid citations.

Tom Dugan, executive director of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority, said the new parking cops -- or "ambassadors" - will be more aggressive in handing out citations, especially to those who choose to feed meters while they work in businesses downtown.

"We still have too many employees parking on the street," Dugan said.

But that's just the start.

Once his organization takes command of parking enforcement, Dugan said, the city's long-ignored rule of three tickets and a boot - a clamp placed on a wheel that keeps the vehicle from moving -- will be enforced.

It's no idle threat.

The new parking ordinance approved a few weeks ago by the City Council eliminated the stipulation that a city judge must sign off before a vehicle can be booted.

The ambassadors will be armed with new technology, like a scanner that will be able to read license tags and show whether and how often a vehicle has been cited in the past.

Translation: instant boot if the owner has three unpaid citations.

"I'm not looking forward to and don't want to see that first car get booted," Dugan said.

But officials believe that stricter enforcement will help rather than hurt.

Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., said more enforcement will mean more parking for visitors because the meter feeders will be forced to park in lots or garages. She said downtown business owners will need more education as enforcement begins to ramp up.

But many are taking advantage of the present system, she said.

"We have 70 parking spots taken up all day long by people with handicap tags," she said.

City Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she, too, has no problem with more stringent enforcement.

"In the past, I think, we've been too lenient," she said.

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The new parking authority has contracted with Republic Parking to provide the manpower for parking meter enforcement.

In addition to issuing tickets, the ambassadors also will provide information to the public about Chattanooga.

Dugan said 10 ambassadors are in training. Besides training with the Chattanooga Police Department, they are also receiving training on the history of Chattanooga and on courtesy from the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

While the new ambassadors may have smiles on their faces, City Judge Russell Bean doesn't have one on his.

An ordinance passed in 2005 said vehicles that received three nonmoving violations could be booted with the approval of a city judge.

The ordinance had been largely ignored until two years ago when the city began trying to collect tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid parking fines. Even then, the boot was used sparingly and briefly. Meanwhile, revenue from parking fines and related fees has declined markedly, from nearly $800,000 in fiscal year 2008 to just $421,000 last year.

The new parking ordinance doesn't require a judge's approval to use the boot, but Bean's not sure it's legal. Under the City Charter, City Court has exclusive jurisdiction on violation of city ordinances, he said.

"I would think they would have to come to us," Bean said.

Yet CARTA is moving ahead with its plans.

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CARTA is paying Republic Parking a flat $25,000 to provide the enforcement manpower and will reimburse Republic for any other expenses.

Republic Parking officials declined to comment for this story and directed all questions to CARTA.

Dugan said he knows some people will say Republic Parking employees are ticketing to drive more people into Republic lots. But he said most of the lots downtown aren't owned by Republic Parking; they are only managed by the private company.

He said he doesn't see a negative effect on visitors because everyone who goes to a city knows they may be ticketed. The whole reason behind writing tickets is to make sure parking spaces are rotating, he said.

"People are going to say, 'You're going to issue more tickets,'" he said. "Yeah, probably."