New York City is giving out more parking tickets than ever before. According to a new report this week, the city brought in $565 million in parking ticket revenue in the last fiscal year, a 3.5% spike over the year before. It's a record. And in February, I got six parking tickets in six days, which also must be some kind of record. I almost contributed $990 to the city's ticket-trove. But I beat the tickets. And you can too, if you do some sleuthing. Read on.
If you live in New York and have a car, you’re already doing it wrong. You know all too well the headache of moving the car for street cleaning; you have in your head a list of the most under-the-radar parking spots that stay open the longest; you’ve seen the crazy ritual that happens every morning in so many neighborhoods, where people move their car over and sit inside it for an hour and a half, then move it right back the moment the street-sweeper passes. But you also know the rules in your neighborhood intimately, and you’re likely extra-careful about where you park, because you’ve been burned before.
I’m extra careful. I know how close is too close to the hydrant, and I have the alternate-side parking calendar web site bookmarked in my phone. But last month, I parked my car in my Brooklyn neighborhood, in what sure looked like a safe space—no signage, no yellow paint, no hydrant—and left it there for six days. It was a Monday spot, meaning the street-cleaning happens on Monday morning, and I parked it there on Monday night and didn’t come back until Sunday night.
I got six parking tickets. Six. They were waiting for me on my dashboard like a bright orange fan of shame. The offense: blocking a pedestrian ramp. Code: (f)(7). Fine: $165. That’s steep! (It is the second-most expensive offense listed on a ticket, after parking in a handicapped spot, which runs you $180.) I’ve certainly gotten my fair share of normal parking tickets (No parking, code d) and the fee is $60. Six tickets, at $165 each, comes to $990, a nauseating total for a twentysomething living in a studio slightly bigger than Harry Potter’s broom closet. I had to contest.
To call the space a “ramp” is a stretch—it was a slight dip in the curb of the sidewalk, the length of one car, and it wasn’t outside of any corresponding ramp attached to the nearest building. There wasn’t any sign about a handicapped ramp, or restricted parking, or anything at all. There wasn’t any of the yellow paint on the curb that often denotes a ban, in lieu of a sign. It looked more like a drain for flooding. And what is a pedestrian ramp? It is different from a handicapped ramp. And forget the ramp itself—it seemed shocking that officers can keep giving the same car a ticket, every day, for being in the same space, when clearly the driver is unaware. Of course, there’s no system to notify a driver that they’ve received a ticket (perhaps there should be?) and to keep piling them on… Can they really do that? (Yes, clearly.)
I had never contested a ticket before—it never seemed worth the trouble. I had often heard that there was a good chance the ticket-issuing officer wouldn’t even show up to the hearing and that, if he or she didn’t, you’d get out of the ticket. But it’s a gamble, and it means taking time off from work to go to court. At $990, I had to try.
I was sitting on my couch, preparing to write a long, verbose statement of defense. My girlfriend saved me the trouble. (She's the true hero of this story.) She searched online for “how to beat a new york parking ticket blocking pedestrian ramp,” and the first result was a godsend: a blog post called, appropriately, New York Parking Ticket. It explained that there had been an “inconsistency” in New York City traffic rules that led to an important change in December 2008. Under the new rule, “Unless a pedestrian ramp is situated at a marked or unmarked crosswalk, as defined by the Traffic Rules, a summons should not be issued for blocking the ramp. Specifically, a pedestrian ramp located on the long street of a ‘T’ intersection may be blocked by parked vehicles, unless the crosswalk is marked, or there is a traffic sign or signal controlling all opposing traffic.”
In other words: if the “ramp” isn’t marked, and isn’t at a crosswalk, you can park in front of it. So it appeared I had been ticketed unfairly. Six times.
I logged on to the New York parking ticket web site. It turned out no hearing would be required. You enter your argument, a judge reviews, and you get a decision via email. I thought about writing some long, verbose essay, but instead, lazily, for my argument, I simply copied and pasted that same paragraph from the blog post. I had to submit a separate form for all six tickets, and I pasted the same message for each. I exhaled. I did not expect success.
Three days later (impressive speed!) I woke up to six emails from a sender named HBW Decision. The emails were as formal and joyless as you’d expect: “You recently submitted a request to contest a parking ticket by an online hearing. An Administrative Law Judge has reviewed your case. The details of the decision are included in the attached Decision and Order Letter.”
Opening up the attachment each time was like opening the college admissions envelope. The first one I opened said, “DECISION SUMMARY: NOT GUILTY. AMOUNT DUE: $0.00.” Ditto for the next five. I won!
But here’s the strange part: they provide you with a judgment response, written by an actual human judge, as to why the ticket is being suspended. Every single ticket had a different response, from a different judge—and only two of the responses said that the ticket was invalid for the reason I had written. The reasons I got varied. One of the responses appeared to give me props: “Persuasive general denial claim and timely submission warrant dismissal. Dismissed,” while another did the opposite: “The make of the vehicle is missing from the summons. Dismissal is not on the merits of the case presented.”
My tickets had been unjust, but six different officers slapped them onto my Jeep nonetheless. Were they unaware of the 2008 rule change? (Was it because of my Red Sox bumper sticker?) If I hadn’t contested, the city would be $990 richer—unjustly. The city finance department did not have any comment when I asked why multiple different officers gave me the same invalid ticket.
There is no feeling quite like beating the system. Justice was served this time, and justice may get served next time, for you, if you do a minimal amount of homework. Don't just pay up without poking around. There are all kinds of strange exceptions to parking laws in New York, and likely in other cities too. It’s worth a shot.
(Note: There is a discrepancy between the video and story—the video says the tickets were $160 each. They were in fact $165 each, as the story states.)
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.