9OYS Investigates: Top ticket scofflaws
Reporter: Jessica Chapin
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Any driver in downtown Tucson can tell you the routine. Park, pay, and hope to get back to feed the meter before punishment. But, hundreds of drivers take the parking tickets and toss them aside, some racking up thousands of dollars.
When a person gets three or more unpaid parking tickets, they're put on the city's "boot list." That means one more ticket and their car could get booted or impounded. But, that step in the process doesn't happen often.
Court administrator Christopher Hale says his department and ParkWise, the agency responsible for parking enforcement, have been cut to the bone. The court has lost 20 positions since 2009. Hale says this is a major factor in actually tracking down the unpaid tickets.
"We had to re-prioritize our workload and criminal cases come first and civil charges come last," he said, "and in that, the boot list was at the very bottom of the list of things to do."
At the bottom of that to do list lies more than $700 thousand. At a time when the city is in a budget crisis, the money means a lot. 9 On Your Side reporter Jessica Chapin asked Hale what they do to track down the cash.
Hale says they only have a few options. Drivers with unpaid parking tickets receive notices and late fees, and can also be added to the Fines/Fees and Restitution Enforcement (FARE) program.
The court can also intercept tax returns and take them from the car owner. Last year, the court collected more than $900 thousand from tax interceptions for various offenses including parking tickets. But, the boot list remains.
Who are these people?
The boot list includes not only individuals, but also nearly every major car rental corporation in Tucson. Hertz is the top offender with 83 outstanding tickets totaling $12 thousand.
9 On Your Side's Jessica Chapin talked to Hertz spokesperson Paula Rivera to ask why.
"In my experience it's been the fact of a communication between the municipality and Hertz," said Rivera.
When a rental customer gets a parking ticket and doesn't pay, the bill is the company's burden. Hertz and most other companies pay the fee to the city and then charge their customer.
"The system is pretty streamlined on our end, it really is a matter of the municipality reaching out to Hertz and saying hey, you have these tickets," said Rivera.
9 On Your Side asked Hale if he thought the city court was trying hard enough to track this money down.
"I think we're trying hard enough with the tools that we have currently," he said.
Hale says he would like to have the right to suspend vehicle registrations or press civil charges for parking tickets. He says it's something he is working to get done during his time as court administrator.
Meanwhile, one individual on the boot list holds 134 unpaid parking tickets. He owes the city more than $16 thousand.
9 On Your Side asked Hale how he was able to get that many tickets without a boot. He said he couldn't answer. We went to someone who could.
"Pay up," says ParkWise:
ParkWise operations manager Katie McDonald responded, saying, "the agent himself or herself may not know that that person is at 134the ticket because if their handheld device doesn't have the information in it that says this person has 134 tickets, they wouldn't know."
McDonald says the handheld devices agents use to check driver parking records must be updated by court staff. Staff Hale says are focused on criminal cases.
"Information gets downloaded into the machinery that the agents carry with them," said McDonald, "That information hasn't been received by ParkWise for quite a while."
ParkWise is also operating at the bare minimum. They have five agents and only four boots for the whole city. McDonald says they are on the road to improvement. She hopes to have five more agents trained by Thanksgiving, and they're working with Tucson Police to get used equipment for the agents.
"I think that's a big problem," she said about the handheld devices, "We are working diligently with courts right now to get these things updated."
McDonald and Hale both say a bigger staff would help get the city's money back. In the meantime, McDonald has a message for anyone with outstanding parking tickets:
"it's unfair to the people that do pay their tickets and to the people that do abide by the laws that these people aren't paying their citations," she said, "Pay up. Because we need the public to help us take care of our city too."