Seattle has warned its 23,000 parking scofflaws: Pay up this month, or the city will immobilize your car with new locked boots.
Seattle has warned its 23,000 parking scofflaws: Pay up this month, or the city will immobilize your car.
The crackdown begins July 5.
Parking-enforcement officers will drive around the city in two vans equipped with rooftop cameras. If an onboard computer recognizes a plate number from the city’s “scofflaw” list, an officer will lock a U-shaped yellow boot around one tire.
To release the boot, motorists must call New Jersey-based PayLock and arrange to pay by credit card or other means. An employee at the 24-hour call center will provide a code to unlock the boot. The driver must return the 16-pound boot within two business days at one of three locations, or face additional fines of $25 a day — or a $500 replacement fee if the boot is stolen, lost or discarded.
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Cars with at least four unpaid parking tickets are considered bootworthy. The city says $26 million is owed in a backlog of scofflaw citations, and booting will recoup an estimated $3 million in the next two years.
In addition to their parking fines, interest and penalties of typically $400 or more, motorists must pay a $145 fee to PayLock. Seattle will be the first of PayLock’s client cities to allow installment payments, said Brian Lauducci, the firm’s information-technology director. The down payment must be $200 or 10 percent of the overdue amount, whichever is more.
Once a boot is applied, motorists have two days to have it removed, or the car will be towed. Denver, Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans and Oakland are among cities already using boots from PayLock, one of four bidders for the Seattle contract.
Parking is a lucrative business for Seattle, which issued more than 600,000 fines last year and collected $21.4 million. Booting is expected to raise a net $1.1 million this year after expenses, and $1.8 million next year — not just through release payments, but because the city expects folks to be more diligent about paying for parking. Meter fees and parking-lot taxes should bring in an additional $55 million this year.
The city is spending $738,000 this year in enforcement costs, equipment and publicity, and budgeted $582,000 for operating costs next year.
Enforcement tends to raise tempers. In Philadelphia, the setting for the A&E television series “Parking Wars,” officers work in pairs and avoid most areas after dark.
Seattle’s business plan says crews will work in pairs because “tensions often become inflamed” and there is a possibility of safety risks.
Operations manager Wayne McCann of the parking-enforcement unit downplayed that problem, saying officers already write citations and call tow trucks in front of the car owner. “At this point,” he said, “we’re not anticipating anything we haven’t already faced or encountered.” One partner can drive while the other focuses on the computer and data, he said.
At the outset, officers will work during normal business hours and stick mainly to arterial streets with paid parking, he said.
Compared with other cities, Seattle’s four-ticket threshold for booting is stricter than the five in Oakland, or eight in Olympia. But Salt Lake City boots after two unpaid fines, Syracuse three, and Pocatello, Idaho, three, news articles say. Some New Jersey cities with scarce residential parking boot cars immediately while the first ticket is written — a practice that causes resentment.
Seattle officials say booting will reduce the time and dollars people otherwise would spend if cars are towed. And make money. Lauducci said PayLock’s business is based on giving customer service, instead of the old model where booted drivers must hassle with another trip just to pay for boot release.
City Council members mentioned several problems, in a briefing Wednesday:
• Will the homeless be harmed? About 500 single people or families live in their cars, Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw said. Ballard, Lake City and Sodo are common car-camping neighborhoods.
The apparent answer is, cut some slack. “We encourage our officers to take in the whole picture of what’s going on,” McCann said. He said a tiny fraction of car-campers have multiple parking fines. Already, the city has done outreach to car-campers about the booting program.
• Inconvenience. The city arranged only for three sites where people can drop off the boots — University District, Rainier Valley and Sodo — and no night hours. Council members asked for more options, such as using police stations.
“You’re really setting up yourself with some pretty angry folks, some confrontations with our people that really don’t need to happen,” Councilman Nick Licata said. Tim Burgess, chairman of the Public Safety & Education Committee, said he doesn’t expect to add sites now, but the city will monitor the issue.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631