May 082017
 

See that bright orange parking ticket on the window? The city says this Land Rover is blocking a driveway — even though the driveway has long since been replaced by the building addition instead. (photo by Owen Courreges for UptownMessenger.com)

Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

You won’t find many people in New Orleans who have much good to say about the Parking Enforcement Division of Public Works. Meter Maids seem to generate a never-ending litany of complaints, the vast majority of which appear well-founded.

A couple of weeks ago I was confronted with a prime example of this phenomenon. I noticed an old Land Rover parked across the street with a ticket in the windshield. Since the Land Rover was legally parked, I was curious what the ticket said.

The ticket indicated that the vehicle was being cited for blocking a “ramp” or “driveway.”

The problem was, there was no wheelchair ramp or driveway to be blocked. There was only an old curb cut adjoining the sidewalk. Any driveway had been very obviously blocked by a building addition. Without providing any means of vehicular ingress or egress, the curb cut could not, legally, be a “driveway.”

After asking around, I determined that this is not an uncommon tactic of meter maids. Others also reported receiving bogus tickets for blocking “driveways” that were really just old curb cuts.

The problem is even worse than just writing tickets for non-violations. Last year, WDSU investigated reports that tickets were being issued against incorrect vehicles. In at least one case, a citation was issued to a person who wasn’t even in the city at the time.

The WDSU report drew the attention of New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux. A subsequent report by his office discovered that nearly 9,000 parking tickets were being issued each year that were facially erroneous. Goodness knows how many other tickets are issued each year where the errors are not so obvious.

It isn’t enough that the city offers an opportunity to challenge a citation. First of all, hearings for parking tickets aren’t specifically scheduled, and you can end up waiting hours to be heard. For people who can’t afford to take half a day off from work, it’s just easier to pay the parking ticket.

Secondly, the hearings themselves are a farce. The hearing officers serve as both judge and prosecutor, looking for any excuse, imagined or otherwise, to uphold bogus tickets.

Unfortunately, the city views parking enforcement as a cash cow and therefore has little incentive to reform a broken system. Instead, the city has actually been doubling down. Over the past decade, metering hours have increased, fines have been increased, and more meter maids have been hired.

The final insult came this January, when it was announced that meter maids would begin ticketing for brake tag violations again, an unpopular practice that was abandoned in 2004.

Chris Lane of New Orleans Citizens for Fair Parking was understandably incensed at the news that Mayor Landrieu was once again making parking enforcement more onerous. “I think this is just another example of this administration nickel-and-diming the people who live here and that do the work here, and who have to pay the bulk of the taxes.”

Meanwhile, there’s actually a movement in Baton Rouge to eliminate vehicle inspections entirely. This session, House Representative Larry Bagley filed House Bill 597, which if enacted would waive inspection requirements for most non-commercial vehicles.

HB 597 is not some radical step. Most states do not require periodic vehicle safety inspections, viewing them as ineffectual and overly burdensome. Mississippi, for example, eliminated its regular inspection requirement in 2015.

Thus, in a time when vehicle safety inspections are going the way of the dodo, Landrieu has seen fit to utilize violations to generate additional revenue under the guise of improving safety. This, in spite of the fact that there is no evidence that the cursory inspections have any impact whatsoever on safety.

Instead of reigning in our meter maids and holding them to account for writing bad tickets, we’ve been hiring more of them and increasing their authority. That’s bad public policy, the effects of which will be felt beyond the parking scofflaws.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  • UptownDanny

    On point, as usual!

  • QuienesSomos

    On another note all of the fake French Quarter private parking is equally annoying. Carriageways which haven’t been used in 100+ years have been essentially turned into private parking spaces.

  • ultimateliberal

    My sister, an out-of-towner, once walked to her car while a meter maid was ticketing it. Upon being asked, the “officer” stated the car was in a no-parking zone. “Where’s the sign?” “Ma’am, it’s missing, but it used to be on this pole right here. This is a no-parking zone, even if the sign is missing. Everybody around here knows that.”

    • Owen Courrèges

      ultimateliberal,

      That’s a very egregious example of the overreach of meter maids. The law specifically states that signage is required for the enforcement of no-parking zones. If there’s no sign, there’s no violation. It isn’t an “everybody knows this” standard.

      I’ve heard in the past that meter maids receive several weeks of training, so I’m sure they were told, at some point, that they can only enforce when a sign is there. I suspect, however, that they are being fed some form of performance standard that encourages them to write bogus tickets. I’m not sure how else one would explain all these bad tickets.

  • H. J. Bosworth JR.

    So many of us were under the impression that we may legally block our own driveway. And to get someone that is parked across our driveways ticketed, we call DPW and the rude one gets ticketed and then towed. So someone may have called to have this poor sap ticketed??? Or are we back to the old days when we could not even block our own driveways without the risk of tickets?

    • You can almost always get away with it. It was never “legal”. No one is getting freaking TOWED for blocking their own driveway. You might get a ticket depending on your neighborhood, which you are free to ignore, just like almost all of us.

    • nolagal70118

      The parking control officers around the university neighborhoods have told me they don’t ticket a blocked driveway unless requested. Not sure if there is a written policy, but that’s what they do in this area.

    • Owen Courrèges

      H.J.,

      You can indeed legally block your own driveway. It’s a “by permission of the owner” standard. I’ve also heard that you have to call DPW to get somebody blocking your driveway either ticketed or towed for this reason, but I haven’t personally verified that, and parking enforcement seems to me to be rather inconsistent.

      • ultimateliberal

        There is, indeed, a “Parking Violations Bureau” that generally (in my experience) comes promptly with a tow truck. I used to have near-daily violators across my driveway, or at least blocking it by 2 ft or more. The number I used to call is 658-8100.

        I also played games with violators by placing bright orange “fake tickets” on the windshields: “You are illegally parked and may be towed. If you can’t fit in this space with proper clearance from each driveway, please find another place to park. Go thy way and sin no more!”

        Once, a person ran down the block, imploring, “No, wait, I’m just leaving!” We had a good laugh as I stood on my porch and watched him read my “ticket.”

      • doglover

        Perhaps these ” unlovely Rita’s” could use a little more education before being unleashed on the streets, to do nothing but meet their quota no matter what. Lessons in common courtesy wouldn’t go a miss either

  • Michel Charbonet

    Thanks Owen. City council members running for Mayor…..well forget it. With the parking tickets, the camera tickets and the statue theft as well as your general uninformed actions ( think the new property tax, the refusing to deal with the unfunded pension plans, ect ) you have divided this town like no other confederacy of dunces ever did.

  • Richard E. McCormack

    Keep up the good work, Owen. And always remember, it’s us (the People) against them (the government). There is no problem “good government” can’t make worse. If government does anything to help you, it’s just a coincidence. 99% of those in elected office are there strictly to help themselves, not you or me. A very close friend (of 36 years) who has served as an elected official in Miami told me that the first rule of politics is “do whatever it takes to get elected” and the second rule of politics is “never forget the first rule.” Enough said. By the way, if the city can find a way to increase your property taxes, I predict it will. Good thing it can’t do to you what the IRS routinely does to those of us who won’t submit. See you in the camps!

  • LGD Resident

    I’ve been ticketed for blocking a driveway in the past. Here’s the kicker, it was my own driveway that I was parked in. The meter maid walked up the driveway, onto my private property to give me a ticket. When I confronted the Dept. of Public Works who oversees Parking Enforcement I was told that they are instructed to write bogus tickets if there was any possible stretch of a justification. Their exact words to me were “When in doubt, we’re instructed to issue a ticket anyway.”
    Our pathetic Mayor is absolutely shameless.