Friday, August 19, 2022
Aug. 19, 2022

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Press Talk: All things parking revealed

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Chad Eiken is the director of community and economic development for the city of Vancouver.
Chad Eiken is the director of community and economic development for the city of Vancouver. Photo Gallery

Let’s be honest.

If you’re enduring a Vancouver winter — cold, damp, perpetual mist — you put up with a certain amount of misery. But hey, it makes you a better person! At least that’s what my mom always told me.

And if there’s a chance to seek out a little more misery — you know, to keep making yourself better — hey, why not.

Paul Montague recently found himself doing just that.

Let me explain. A few weeks back on what almost certainly was a cold, damp, misting day, Paul was headed over to the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, where he’s the business services coordinator. He loaded up the parking meter for the max — two hours — and went into work. He knew he would have to return two hours later.

So at exactly two hours and one minute later — you guessed it — Paul found a parking ticket on his car. Cha-ching. Count Paul $25 lighter in his pocket. Welcome to the club, Paul. And those $25 parking tickets add up. Last year, the city brought in more than $700,000 in fines.

Paul wasn’t aware of it at the time, but he joined what I called the Unlucky 100 Club. Because — on average — the city dishes out a little more than 100 parking tickets every day. If you do the math (don’t count weekends) that means there are more than 30,000 tickets given out a year. That was last year’s number, by the way. But I suspect this year won’t be much different.

•••

I like Paul. He’s one of the good guys. Even been over to his house once for a Christmas party. He’s deeply involved in the community. If you don’t see him at a local event, please check the hospitals, because he must be ill. Paul is also a guy who understands the need for government revenue, be it taxes or user fees like parking, and — yes — even parking tickets.

“I get it,” he said of his ticket. “They’re doing their job.”

But, dang. Just 60 seconds! So Paul did what so many of us do. He posted his complaint on Facebook.

Oh my! Forget cat videos. His post ended up with more than 150 comments. He was so moved by the response, he applied for an open seat on the Parking Advisory Committee.

Coming Monday

No one is immune from parking tickets including — as noted in this column — me. Public officials get them as well.

So here’s a question: Who has received more parking tickets: Me or former Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt? Also, take a guess at how many each of us have received.

I’ll reveal the answer in a special bonus column on Monday.

“There’s a need,” he told me earlier this week.

Now Paul realizes that late is late. Be it 60 seconds or 60 minutes, if the meter is expired, it’s expired. He just got a little cranky because he felt the enforcement officers were lurking around to nab him.

“(Are) parking patrols on a quota system? Do they sit by our cars and wait for our parking receipts to expire?” Paul asked on his Facebook post.

Fair questions. So I asked Chad Eiken, the city’s director of community and economic development. He oversees all things parking in the city. He was quite helpful and very patient with me as I wrote this column.

“While I can understand someone’s frustration at having the bad fortune to receive a citation only minutes after the time has expired, it’s just that — bad fortune that the officer happened to be walking by their car not long after the permit had expired.”

He also addressed the quota theory.

“There is no quota — period. We don’t have a target for the amount of revenue we would expect to receive from citations. But if someone is over the time limit and our parking officer happens to be walking by and no one is running to them to move their car, they’re pretty likely to end up with a parking citation.”

Fair enough. Still, if you believe you’ve been wronged in some way, the city does have an appeal process. Paul didn’t want to be “that guy,” so he’s already paid his fine. But last year a little less than 5 percent of those who were issued a parking ticket did appeal. That’s more than 1,000 appeals.

Wow! Sounds like 1,000 folks wanted to be that guy. Hold on, hold on. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being that guy. And now that my memory is kicking in, guess who was in that spot a few years back? Let’s hop into the time machine.

•••

Dec. 16, 2002. I was pretty much minding my own business, sitting in the editor’s office at The Columbian, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a women ticketing my beloved ’87 Honda Prelude. I was parked on Eighth Street where there was no meter, but a two-hour parking sign.

I had only been parked there about 15 minutes after returning from lunch, so getting a ticket wasn’t adding up for me. I grabbed my umbrella — a cool Columbian one with color comic strips all over it — and rushed out in the rain to greet her.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“You’ve been here over the two-hour limit,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Well ma’am, I think you’re mistaken. I just parked there. And, by the way, when I got into my car to go to lunch I happened to look at my tire and saw no chalk line.” (One of the ways they check for violators is to chalk your tire. When they come back, if the chalk line is in the same place, it shows the car hasn’t moved and they write the ticket.)

“I didn’t use a chalk line,” she told me. “I used the valve stem.”

That was new to me, so I asked her about it. She said some drivers got wise to the chalk lines and began wiping them off. So a backup is to eyeball where your tire’s valve stem is located. They use the 12 numbers on an imaginary clock to record it. If it stays in that same general spot — say 4 o’clock — they conclude you didn’t move and you get ticketed.

I shook my head and decided to politely discontinue the conversation. I really didn’t want to be that guy. Or did I?

When I returned to my office, I was in a whining mood! It wasn’t the $7 fine (hey, prices have gone up), it was the principle of the dang thing. #Nojusticenopeace! (Wait, hashtags wouldn’t be invented for another five years.) It was fight or flight for me, and I was leaning toward fight. I sat down and began mapping out a defense.

She ticketed my car shortly after noon but I knew I drove to Subway just before that. Did I still have the receipt for my sandwich? Yes! That proves I was at Subway just 15 minutes before she gave me the ticket.

But what if someone argues I could have walked to Subway? I’d print a copy of the hour-by-hour weather report to show no reasonable person would have walked in that weather. You guessed it. It was rainy, windy, damp and cold.

Finally I’d attack the statistical probability of this valve stem method. By using the clock numbers 1 through 12, it gives someone 12-1 odds that they could move their car, park in the same place and have the stem be in the same position. Hey 12-1 odds isn’t that much of a long shot. I looked up the Kentucky Derby winner that year. It was War Emblem. Paid $43. That means it went off at more than 20-1. I had a better chance of having my valve stem land in the same spot than that horse had of winning. And it won!

I was ready to do battle. But I kept asking myself: Do I want to be that guy?

And in the end, I couldn’t pull the trigger. Today, I’m still not sure that was the right decision. What would you have done?

•••

In the end, I’m a believer in parking permits, parking tickets and an increase in those prices to help pay off all things parking in Vancouver. User fees make sense to me. In fact, before this year Eiken said the city had been having to dip into the general fund to help pay for the city’s parking garages. Because of the revenue generated from parking permits, parking meters and parking fines, this is the first year Vancouver will not have to do that.

So let’s enjoy — the best we can — the last few weeks before spring breaks out. Let’s appreciate all things parking. And please, please, please, less Facebook complaining and more cat videos.

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