How you can get away with (parking ticket) murder in Seattle

October 2, 2013
In Seattle, violators ignore parking tickets at no risk (via Rolling Out)

In Seattle, violators ignore parking tickets at no risk (via Rolling Out)

More than two years after declaring a get-tough stance on parking-ticket deadbeats, Seattle finds violators are winning the war.

The numbers don’t favor the city. According to data compiled from a public records request by local media outlet KING 5, more than 10,000 drivers or businesses since August 2011 have three or more unpaid parking tickets.

  • Of that group, 502 vehicle owners have ten or more outstanding tickets.
  • Together, that subset represents a combined total of 9,077 unpaid tickets.

Parking ticket? Just ignore it.

Sophia Phillips, the most egregious offender, has 146 outstanding citations. Former neighbor Scott Howe said Phillips would habitually park in a loading zone in front of his office window in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

“She’d stay there all day long—come and go, actually—and leave the ticket on the windscreen and park back where she was,” he told KING 5.

Another witness says he watched Phillips crumple tickets on her windshield. Phillips claims that Kaleidoscope Vision, the vintage clothing shop she owned on 10th Avenue, had no parking, and she was forced to hunt for spots in parking-poor Capitol Hill.

Still, the almost 150 tickets she has yet to pay off are “weird and embarrassing,” Phillips told KING 5, and she’s working with local courts to find a way to settle them. Phillips has also since sold her car in an attempt to avoid future tickets.

Vehicle re-registration: a parking bait and switch

Besides flagrantly ignoring the citations they’re issued, how else do sneaky drivers get around parking tickets? One method requires a partner in crime: Motorists with numerous tickets can simply register their vehicle under a different name. For instance, the guilty party can show up at a licensing office with someone else and re-register under that person’s name. The “new” driver keeps his or her old license plate, but the new registration wipes the slate clean so that the so-called new “owner” can keep accruing tickets without paying off the old ones.

Repeatedly registering a car under different names also removes it from the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) list of vehicles in its boot program, so named after the wheel clamp affixed to cars with four or more unpaid tickets. Autos given the boot can’t move until the owner arranges to pay the tickets.

Out-of-state vehicles never get the boot

Yet another loophole exists for those who would otherwise be subject to the boot: Vehicles with out-of-state license plates cannot be legally booted, no matter how many tickets have been issued to the driver. The SPD has lobbied to close the holes in city and state law but has so far been unsuccessful in its efforts.

“There are some people who have been very good at maneuvering through the system,” SPD parking director William E. Edwards told KING 5. “Now they’ve racked up hundreds of tickets and are still able to drive and park on city streets without any real consequences.”

Whether Seattle can strengthen its regulatory and enforcement muscles remains to be seen.

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