- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

The other day, The Washington Times ran a front-page story pointing out that two of three lawmakers who voted against immunizing themselves and their colleagues from parking tickets had received the most tickets since passage of the measure more than their colleagues who had voted for the perquisite. The measure, passed in July, was the brainchild of D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, whose public works panel oversees parking enforcement. When reporter Matthew Cella asked Mrs. Schwartz the usefulness of the measure, she was curt: "Is it worth The Washington Times making this the most important issue in the history of world?" The short answer, of course, is no; there are more pressing concerns inside and outside the Beltway. However, the District's punitive parking policies are given considerable print and air time because they are designed to raise revenues instead of being used as a law-enforcement tool.
Fox's Channel 5, for example, has blown the whistle with its ongoing series of stories on malfunctioning parking meters, which suck up motorists' quarters but fail to register the correct time if they register any minutes at all. Just last week, Fox's Elisabeth Leamy reported that 22 percent of the meters at 44th and Jenifer Streets NW were malfunctioning, and she interviewed frustrated motorists who were bilked by meters elsewhere. Her report also documented meters that display two different messages at the same time. "On the sidewalk side, where you are, it says 'fail, out of order.' On the street side, where the meter maid is, it says "expired, out of order." The Channel 5 report also revealed what Mrs. Schwartz and others on the council surely know to be true when it comes to fighting parking tickets: "Staff will report the meter is functioning properly and the ticket will stand."
Channel 5 and The Times also have regularly reported on other parking traps, including conflicting parking signs and arcane policies that prey on motorists and generate considerable revenues for the District. Recently, The Times reported that police were ticketing cars whose wheels were not chocked curbside on hillsides.
City officials merely offer lame excuses. Regarding the broken meters, transportation chief Dan Tangherlini told Channel 5 that one of the problems is that the city has "20 different meter rates … one of the most complex meter structures in the country." But how fees are structured is not the underlying problem; greed is.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Schwartz said the Williams administration has a "gotcha mentality" a mentality she helps to foster but that she wants to give motorists a break. She is crafting legislation that would return the $10 mandatory fee that motorists must pay when they fight a ticket if that motorist emerges victorious. Mrs. Schwartz also wants Mayor Williams to hire an independent auditor to review the city's parking-meter contract.
Well, chalk one up for Mrs. Schwartz, for her generosity. But she already has the Office of the D.C. Auditor at the council's disposal and that office does a good job, as its other audits have already proven. Why spend taxpayer money an outside audit?
The underlying principle about varied parking issues including the parking tax vis-a-vis residential parking permits remains, and that is precisely what Mrs. Schwartz, her colleagues and the Williams administration must address. Indeed, it takes a strong-willed politician to not only concede that the District's parking policies are designed to raise revenues, but to do something about it. That, too, truly would be top-of-the-news.

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