Parking ticket crackdown coming for San Francisco drivers

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San Francisco motorists who park their cars in tow-away zones or stop in the middle of intersections will be targeted by new efforts to earn more money from parking scofflaws.

To eliminate a projected $21.2 million budget deficit by June 30, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency plans to reduce employee overtime and write more tickets.

Where parking control officers previously gave motorists a 10-minute “grace period” to leave tow-away zones, they will now allow just five minutes, according to Joy Houlihan, who manages parking enforcement. Such citations carry fines of up to $85.

Meanwhile, motorists who stop in an intersection once the light has changed will also be a focus of enforcement.

And the agency will beef up the number of parking control officers working Saturdays and Mondays.

At a Tuesday committee meeting during which the issue was discussed, agency board members expressed concern about how the public would perceive the crackdown. “Is what we’re doing the proper enforcement our citizens want?” board member Jerry Lee asked. “We don’t want the perception that this is a cash cow.”

But it may already be too late to change that perception, particularly for small-business owners. Many already fear the agency’s hunger for parking revenue will drive away customers, said Steve Cornell, owner of Brownie’s Hardware.

“There’s a fine line between discouragement and enforcement,” said Cornell. “And we’re getting to the point where drivers are going to avoid coming here.”

In response to such claims, Executive Director Nathaniel Ford notes that his agency has sought to balance its budget by tapping a wide range of revenue sources — from transit riders to agency employees. For instance, monthly transit fares have been hiked three times since 2008, and many labor groups have agreed to concessions.

In any case, it remains to be seen how effective this new strategy will be, given recent trends. Despite a significant drop in the ranks of the agency’s parking control officers, the number of citations issued per officer has been dropping. In the 2004 fiscal year, workers issued an average of 611 monthly citations. Last fiscal year, that average fell to 498 citations.

Consequently, citation revenue is expected to be $14 million below projections for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Agency Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose attributes the drop to greater awareness of costly traffic fines, which have increased consistently over the past three years.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Inside the budget deficit

With a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, the SFMTA is turning to parking tickets for extra revenue.

$775 million Total annual budget of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
$256.6 million Initial revenue projection from parking fees and fines this fiscal year
$242.4 million Revised projection
$21.2 million Projected budget shortfall

Source: SFMTA

 

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