New Haven Parking Scofflaws Owe City $13.8M
New Haven Register, March 22, 2019
By Ed Stannard
Marissa Vasilakos of Stratford is New Haven’s biggest parking scofflaw, owing $1,470 on 14 outstanding tickets.
She recently took over the top spot from Yale University, which last week owed $1,500 on 14 tickets.
The amounts are as high as they are because the fines double after 15 days and triple after 30 days, although one ticket for illegal parking, stopping or standing cannot be increased to more than $250, according to the city ordinances. Fines range from $20 to $150, depending on the offense.
Vasilakos, who could not be reached for comment, sits atop a list that totals $13 million in lost city revenue, an amount that is frustratingly hard to reduce, according to Doug Hausladen, the city’s director of transportation, traffic and parking.
Yale’s total likely includes several vehicles, so the university rises and falls regularly on the list.
“It’s very typical for them to be the No. 1 scofflaw,” Hausladen said.
“Large fleets are able to sign up with our fleet-management program” and receive a monthly bill from the city. “That’s probably a normal month for them,” he said of the $1,500. As of Monday, Yale had dropped to 38th, owing $500 on 14 tickets.
Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart wrote in an email on Tuesday, “We understand from our administrators that this has been resolved.” Hausladen said that because Yale is in the fleet program, its bills are handled by the city’s Accounts Receivable Department. A request for Yale’s current balance was made on Wednesday.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer wrote in an email, “the day-to-day balance on any one of these accounts depends upon timing within that billing/invoicing/payment cycle. … Yale routinely keeps current with the city in terms of paying its parking ticket invoices.” However, in its earlier report, sent to the Register on March 11, Yale’s $1,500 total was based on $500 in tickets issued, meaning that the fines had not been paid within at least 15 days of the ticket being issued.
Peart did not respond when asked why Yale drivers appear to regularly violate the city’s parking ordinances.
Hausladen’s office compiled a list of the top 50 scofflaws for the New Haven Register. As of Monday, the top 50 owe $34,134 for 469 tickets. None of the top 10 debtors could be reached for comment.
Whether people are overstaying their limit at a parking meter (a $20 penalty) or committing the most egregious violation, parking in a handicapped-only space (a $150 fine), if they do not pay the fine, they are depriving New Haven of money it could use to improve the transportation infrastructure of the city, Hausladen said.
Parking is a complex topic in a dense city like New Haven, with time limits and pricing at meters, garage spaces, bike lanes and bus routes all affecting the number of empty spaces left on the street for drivers.
People who don’t pay the meters or let them run out, or who violate other regulations — parking within 10 feet of a fire hydrant, parking less than 25 feet from the corner, crosswalk or stop sign, blocking a driveway or taking up space at a bus stop — are inconveniencing others, threatening public safety and holding the city back from making improvements that would benefit everyone, Hausladen said.
If the 50 worst offenders owe less than $35,000 out of an outstanding $13 million loss, that means there are an awful lot of people who are trying to beat the system and park for free — or who aren’t paying out of anger because they got back to their car five minutes after the meter ran out and found a ticket on their windshield.
The list of 50 includes drivers from Florida, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas and Quebec. All have gone over 15 or 30 days with at least one of their tickets and each has received at least seven.
The rest of the Top 10 scofflaws are William Palmieri of New Haven, 17 tickets, $1,410; Giesi Rodriguez of New Haven, 14, $1,260; Theresa Katz of Hamden, 17, $1,200; Luilly Gomez of New Haven, 13, $1,170; Larkins Flooring LLC of Bridgeport, eight, $1,060; Marc Arotsky of Woodbridge, 13, $1,050; Stranja Perrin of Ansonia, nine, $900; and Carmen Figueroa of North Lauderdale, Florida, eight, $885.
There are a lot of details to the rules of parking in New Haven. For example, while there is a limit of two hours at most downtown parking meters, which must be fed until 9 p.m., that limit is lifted after 5 p.m., so that you can pay for up to four hours, have dinner and not have to worry about running out to find a new parking space once your meter expires.
In fact, it’s a violation to feed a meter to keep a parking space. Those who do so are called “meter repeaters” and are subject to a $20 ticket. “You’re not supposed to park within 500 feet” once you hit the time limit, Hausladen said. “That’s roughly one block-length. The purpose of short-term on-street parking is short term. There is a right-size parking location for every parking need.”
Numerous garages and parking lots are scattered all over downtown.
“We now digitally chalk tires” to make sure the vehicle hasn’t overstayed its limit,” Hausladen said. “We don’t do it every day; it’s pretty time-consuming.”
But while police and the city’s 21 parking-enforcement officers do make a note of cars that haven’t been moved, “It is harder for us to enforce meter repeating than it is a meter violation,” he said.
It’s possible that those further down the list were the victims of imperfect meters, which do break occasionally, but there is the right of appeal. “The number of people who tell me directly that they had a problem with their meter is insane,” Hausladen said. “About twice a week, once a week, a credit card gets stuck in a meter.”
And people have their reasons for why they didn’t deserve the ticket they received. “Everyone who drives will park … so we’re all mild experts,” Hausladen said.
“It’s really important to approach the work with the empathy that anyone can be a scofflaw, from your law-abiding grandmother to the one who’s evading parking tickets,” he said.
Fines add up back to top
Of $13.8 million in outstanding parking tickets, $10.5 million is owed by Connecticut residents, but $2.9 million of that is owed on vehicles with unknown owners. Out-of-state drivers owe $3.1 million, only $1.2 million of which is owned by known vehicle owners, Hausladen said. The balance is from unknown drivers.
The city collected $5.29 million from parking fines in fiscal 2018, compared with $6.5 million from the meters. Of “203,000 tickets that are outstanding, the average amount owed after escalators, after everything, is about $68,” Hausladen said. In the year ending June 2018, 135,096 tickets were processed.
Scofflaws face more than the fines they owe if they’re caught. Anyone who owes more than $200 can have their car booted, and owing more than $400 will get the car towed. The boot fee is $55 and the cost of getting a towed car back is $77 ($88 during a snow emergency). That’s in addition to paying for the tickets, towing fees and outstanding taxes, and there’s a $20-a-day storage fee.
The fine for violating a snow emergency parking ban is $100, and it’s $150 for parking in a handicapped space without a permit. If “that doubles [it] can get you in the boot,” Hausladen said.
Another way scofflaws can get caught is when they try to register their vehicles with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, but they’ll be kept from registering only if they have more than five outstanding tickets, and the city only reaps about $40,000 a year that way. That “represents 0.29 percent of the delinquency,” Hausladen said.
And the city actively looks for scofflaws, Hausladen said. Crown Towing has a contract with the city to have someone drive around the city, shooting photos of license plates with a camera that then dings the scofflaws it finds.
It’s not easy to track down people who owe the city money. “Our methods of collection are limited by statute and by ordinance,” Hausladen said. Collection notices and photographing license plates can go only so far. “The challenge of course is that our contractor drives only in the city of New Haven so, once you leave the city of New Haven, our power is diminished considerably.”
Another ng fact No. 2: There are between 1,000 and 1,200 street spaces downtown, where the object is to “churn,” as Hausladen calls it, keeping people moving so others can stop to shop or eat. But there are 20,000 spaces in the 24 garages and lots in or close to downtown.
“On-street parking is a limited common good,” Hausladen said. “There’s only so much of it and everybody has access to it at some level.”
But, he added, “there’s psychologically something about being able to see your destination from your parking space. My job is to equitably distribute this limited common good and my only mechanisms to do this distribution are price, duration and regulations.”
Then there’s the ghost of Concetta “Penney” Serra. Hausladen did not live in New Haven on July 16, 1973, when Serra was stabbed to death in a 10th-floor stairwell of the Temple Street Garage. But he knows the name well. Her killer was not caught and convicted until 2002, and the crime made the garages less attractive as parking spots than they might otherwise have been.
In a dense downtown, parking meters and other strategies serve to keep traffic moving and to make sure it’s not too difficult to reach the shops, restaurants, theaters, churches and other activities New Haven is known for. Hausladen also wants to encourage people to use mass transit, bike and walk. So having to pay for parking serves a purpose beyond bringing revenue to the city.
“When it’s zero dollars, everyone drives,” he said.
Ideally, downtown parking spots would be about 85 percent full, Hausladen said. “When you turn the corner, one or two spaces should be available to you,” he said.
But Hausladen believes planners need to get away from the notion that there has to be a space for everyone who comes into the city to live or work. “Seattle added 40,000 jobs, I believe, to downtown in the last 15 years and they’ve added zero cars,” he said. “This perpetuation of designing for storage of vehicles as a zoning requirement is anti-human.”
Relying on the ideas of Donald Shoup, a Yale University graduate and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” Hausladen said he would make several changes if he could: He would remove rules for minimum off-street parking spaces for new buildings and he would re-examine the charges for parking. “In some places rates would go up; in some places rates would go down,” he said.
Hausladen would like to target the fines from parking tickets to the areas they come from. “I would take the revenue from the system that we create and I would reinvest it in the district that it came from,” he said. He would spend the money on streetscape, pedestrian lighting, curbs, bump-outs, bus shelters and benches, all of which would make city living that much more pleasant, he said.