- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ticket adjudicators in the District are dismissing about half the parking and traffic citations issued to those who contest them - a rate that suggests widespread problems with issuing tickets in a city that plans to expand its use of cameras and officers to dole out even more fines in the coming months.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham said the ratio is “of great concern” if true.

“If it’s that high, it’s a problem, and we need to really look into it,” said Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation - the panel with oversight of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Public Works (DPW), which issues most citations in the city.

DMV statistics show that of 87,694 citations challenged through April, 43,631 were dismissed by adjudicators while 44,063 were upheld.

Nearly 33,000 of the dismissals were granted for violations such as parking at an expired meter, parking in a reserved or illegal space or even parking on a lawn. Roughly 8,000 of the dismissals stemmed from moving violations such as speeding, while nearly 3,000 tickets generated by the city’s photo-radar system out of about 9,000 challenged were kicked to the curb.

DMV spokeswoman Janis Hazel said officials could not generalize the main reasons for the high number of ticket dismissals, and DPW spokeswoman Linda Grant stressed that she did not know the percentage of the dismissed tickets issued by her agency.

However, Ms. Grant said her agency - which employs 220 parking-control officers, including supervisors - does receive information about adjudicated tickets, but can use it to find out whether any problems in the enforcement program need to be addressed.

“We use the adjudicated tickets as a learning tool to identify if there are issues that are going on internally, meaning that there’s a parking control officer who perhaps needs some more retraining,” she said. “Or one of the external issues could be that the signage is confusing.

“It’s a useful tool because anything that is going on outside in the elements certainly is subject to wind, wear and tear,” she said.

Parking tickets in the District can be dismissed for several reasons, including that the meter was broken through no fault of the driver’s or a sign listing relevant parking restrictions was missing or obscured.

The New York Times reported in January that 39 percent of drivers who challenged their tickets in that city four years ago were able to convince adjudicators that the tickets should be dismissed.

In 2005, New York introduced a settlement program to expedite the resolution of parking tickets. Last year, the proportion of challengers whose tickets were dismissed had dropped to 22 percent, the newspaper report said, adding that 56 percent of drivers who challenge tickets now secure some kind of reduced fine.

The District’s high dismissal rate is nothing new: More than 55 percent of parking tickets challenged in person or by mail were dismissed by the DMV in fiscal 2007.

In fiscal 2006, 43 percent of contested parking tickets were tossed.

Capitol Hill resident Nathan Kerr said he has been successful twice in challenging tickets and having them tossed out via mail. In one instance, Mr. Kerr said, he parked at the Library of Congress but was unable to tell which meter to feed, so he picked the one “I thought was mine.”

After coming back to his car later, Mr. Kerr noticed he had a ticket despite having 15 minutes of time left on the meter. Because he doesn’t have a cell phone capable of taking pictures, he challenged the ticket by drawing a diagram of the situation with Microsoft Paint and pleading that the agency should take his word that he fed the meter because he had previously paid all other parking tickets.

“I would say that D.C. is generally overzealous in its parking enforcement,” said Mr. Kerr, 28.

The fiscal 2010 budget plan put forward by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty expands the city’s networks of red-light and photo-radar cameras, which were on pace through the first seven months of this fiscal year to rake in some of their highest revenue totals ever.

The proposal assumes the enhanced programs would generate a $20 million increase in revenue, officials said.

Mr. Graham’s committee also noted during the budget process that the District will gain additional revenue from plans to install cameras on street sweepers. Budget documents say the city will have 12 sweepers equipped with cameras this month, and the devices will issue 237,500 tickets in fiscal 2010 - translating to roughly $7.1 million in revenue.

Council members also moved to restore 65 parking enforcement positions in the Department of Public Works. They noted that just 25 percent of the Districts streets receive parking-enforcement attention and that DPW officials have testified that neighborhood parking enforcement requests are the second most common service request among city residents.

The officers will help bring in $12.6 million in revenue, the budget documents state.

• Gary Emerling can be reached at gemerling@washingtontimes.com.

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