Monday, March 13, 2006

MIA Meter maids

Ah, so this must be why the city locals were telling me not to worry about feeding the meter on Saturday afternoon...

Illegal parking still has curb appeal - Phillip Matier, Andrew RossMonday, March 13, 2006

Next time you get a parking ticket in San Francisco, here's something to think about -- you're one of the hapless few.

On any given workday, 1 out of 3 vehicles parked in downtown San Francisco is breaking the rules -- it's either camped in front of an expired meter, in a street-cleaning zone or maybe at a curb painted a color that signals a potential infraction.

And the chances that car will get a ticket? Only about 1 in 20, according to a new in-house survey by the city's Department of Parking and Traffic.

Department workers who checked 13 downtown and neighboring commercial districts from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 found that parking control officers were toughest in the Financial District, with a "capture rate" on parking violators of 14 percent.

Best place to get away with it: Stockton Street in Chinatown, where trucks double-park by the score and regularly overstay their welcome at meters. The capture rate there is a mere 1 percent.

Municipal Transportation Agency spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said the ticket shortfall isn't from lack of trying.

"Unlike some cities, our parking officers have to do a lot of other things as well, like direct traffic,'' Lynch said.

One of the more interesting finds, according to the report, is "use (and likely abuse)'' of placards for the disabled in the city. About 1 in 10 parked cars surveyed had the blue placards, which allow drivers to park free and for as long as they like.

In May 2004, there were 32,866 placards for the disabled registered to San Francisco residents -- an increase of 54 percent since 1995. That same month, 3,674 temporary placards were issued.

The explosion in the blue placards prompted Parking and Traffic staffers to make a couple of interesting -- and no doubt controversial -- suggestions.

They include installing meters in blue zones, but without any time limits on them. Or allowing a "generous" time limit for the placards -- but a time limit all the same.

"Those are just staff suggestions,'' Lynch said. She said she wasn't sure if the city's new transportation director, Nathaniel Ford Sr., had even seen the report yet.

In any case, any change in disabled parking rules would need state approval. You can imagine how many politicians would want to take on that issue.

By the way, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency's 2006 fact sheet, the city issued 2 million parking tickets last year -- for a take of $84.9 million.

The biggest share of tickets, 33.7 percent, went for street-cleaning violations, followed by parking meter violations at 27.5 percent.

As for the meters themselves, they generated just $24 million in revenue last fiscal year -- which once again shows that when it comes to parking, the real money is in the tickets.

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