Parking ticket system effecient or invasive?

Parking ticket system effecient or invasive?

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

The City of Rockford parking control officers have introduced high-tech Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking in lieu of chalking on a trial basis for the downtown area parking violators. The trial began May 29 and will continue until July 27.

But some citizens are objecting to the apparent invasion of privacy. The city, however, believes the system is efficient. “There’s several differences in this piece of equipment,” city traffic engineer Steve Ernst stated. “It takes a lot of time to actually put chalk on everybody’s tire. We will cover more of the downtown more often, and we will do a better job at parking patrol.”

The city created time zones in 1982 instead of using parking meters. “Those were intended for customers of downtown … to park while doing business,” Ernst noted.

“Those citations are to enforce the ordinances that we have for short-term parking. We built our beats so all of the different time zones can be handled by a particular officer. We’ve determined those over the years.”

Throughout the years, parking control officers have policed the downtown area in Jeeps and chalked tires. At this point, Ernst is unsure how many would be purchased.

A van drives around with a camera taking pictures of the rear of vehicles, which includes tires and license plates. The cameras determine the actual coordinates of the license plate through the built-in, onboard Global Positioning System (GPS).

Cameras are located on the right and left sides of the van. Lights on top of the van are used for parking enforcement on bright, sunny days to compensate for shadows.

Ernst isn’t sure how much a van would cost to purchase. He said it can be configured with different options. He said it would cost “just in rough numbers, probably $60,000

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to $80,000 per vehicle.”

“So far, it’s going real well. It knows a certain vehicle was parked at a certain time,” Ernst noted. “The system is automatically chalking and getting a photographic record.

The vehicle will come back to the area after a particular time to recheck vehicles and determine whether the vehicle has remained in the parking space past the allotted time. “The license plate has not moved,” he said. “The position of the tire hasn’t changed.”

The technology became available at the beginning of the year. Ernst said Rockford is one of the first cities to use the technology. Salt Lake City is looking at it to use in preparation for the Olympics.

The system can also scan license plates and detect a stolen car. For vehicles that have five unpaid parking tickets, the city will place a metal restraining device on the tire dubbed “the boot” that disables the car, a practice the city has enforced since 1993 to ensure people pay their tickets. “It’s a locking device that requires a key to get it off,” Ernst indicated. “It immobilizes the car.”

Those vehicles are considered “boot-eligible,” Ernst said. The offenders are those who have failed to pay their tickets past the final determination date. In the meantime, the city sends out five notices to get violators to pay.

Ernst said that the new system detected six to seven boot-eligible vehicles the first week. The new system should find two to three “bootable” vehicles in an average week.

“We found more boot-eligible vehicles than we ever found in a week,” Ernst noted. “When the trial is done, hopefully, we [have] tripled or doubled the number of boots. We’ll be reviewing our data and evaluating it and taking it to City Council.”

Some people are questioning how the city can afford such expensive equipment.

Jenny Zenda, a Libertarian activist, was surprised when she found out about the system. She clearly believes it’s an unfair method to use and is an invasion of privacy.

Karen Elyea works downtown and feels the system makes it inconvenient for people to visit the area. “Let’s bring more people here before we make it any more inconvenient for them to be here,” she noted. “I don’t think that parking is downtown’s main problem. We do need to limit the parking … I suppose we have to wait and see if it’s a cost-effective measure.”

She also is concerned about civil liberty issues. “I would hate to see it used for anything else. The possibilities are endless.”

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