WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, October 25, 2017) ––The streets of the nation’s capital are fraught with a gauntlet of hard-luck venues and avenues for ticket-weary motorists who were on the receiving end of 5.7 million parking and traffic tickets in a span of 30 months. Astonishingly, those citations carried a face value of $578,560,842 in fines, fees, and other penalties. That’s a lot of greenbacks and that sum includes untold millions of dollars in late fees. Critics say the city has some of the country’s harshest penalties for late payments of traffic and parking violations. Members of the District Council have introduced four separate but overlapping bills that will ease the financial burden of parking and traffic citations on city residents.
During a joint Council committee hearing slated for Friday morning, Council members will ponder a bill that eliminates the ticket late fee for District residents. Non-residents will still face a ticking clock, with fines doubling after 30 days. Given the backlash, Council Members deem it “an important hearing.” They will also weigh a bill that allows District residents who owe more than $1,000 in unpaid traffic tickets to participate in an amnesty program to resolve unpaid citations. The Council is also eyeing legislation allowing motorists of meager means to enroll in a payment plan for the parking and traffic tickets they have incurred.
As the original fine doubles, motorists suspect they are being “nickel and dimed” by the city’s draconian ticket-issuing regime. Statistics and digits appear to bear witness to their suspicions. In fact, the city processed 2,475, 929 traffic and parking tickets during Fiscal Year 2015 alone, according to the District Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Adjudication Caseload Statistics. The dollar value of the citations processed during the budget cycle was $225,891,216. The following budget cycle, FY 2016, the city administered a record-breaking 2,760,482 citations valued at $299,230,511, calculates AAA Mid-Atlantic. As the number of citations proliferates, and as fines mount, District residents are currently on the hook for $23,944,747 in unpaid citations stemming from the tickets they received during FY 2016, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic. City residents owe the city’s coffer $17,774,346 in unpaid citations in FY 2015. This brings the total arrearage for city residents to $41,719,093 over the past budget cycles.
“Few people have bulging wallets or an endless cash supply. The current draconian practice creates a proverbial ‘Catch-22’ for tens of thousands of motorists who can’t afford to pay their tickets on time,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Of the 2.7 million tickets the city issued last year, 57.1 percent involved citations for parking violations, while automated traffic enforcement tickets comprised 39.9 percent of the ticket total. The fear of doubling fines forces some drivers to pay tickets they feel they didn’t deserve. By doing so, they forfeit the right to fight or appeal the fine.”
Compounding matters, drivers are compelled to pay the fine or contest the ticket within “30
calendar days from the date the ticket was issued.” The trouble is the city has up to 10 days to review all
potential automated traffic violations once they are detected, further delaying when the ticket arrives in the vehicle owner’s home mailbox. This means some motorists are forced to pay or contest a ticket with less than a week’s notice. While AAA Mid-Atlantic supports the legislation ending the practice of doubling fines if you miss a payment deadline, it is concerned that the measures only apply to District residents. Whether they contest their tickets online, by mail or in-person, motorists residing in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere would not be exempted from the late fees or eligible for the ticket amnesty program.
Garnering the most attention is legislation crafted by Councilmember Trayon White, Sr. (Ward 8). The measure, the “Traffic and Parking Ticket Penalty Amendment Act of 2017,” seeks to eliminate the financial penalties that District residents face for “failure to answer a notice of infraction for automated traffic enforcement, parking, standing, stopping and pedestrian offense within 30 days.” Another key piece of legislation, also introduced by Councilmember White, engenders a ticket amnesty program for District residents who owe more than $1,000 on certain unpaid traffic tickets. District Councilmember White says he “shares the concerns of his constituents when it comes to transportation issues from the excessive amount of traffic and parking tickets that residents receive to the accessibility of public transportation.”
Under current District law, a $30 expired meter ticket doubles to $60 after 30 days. However, that $150 red-light camera ticket doubles to $300 if left unpaid for 30 days. Speed camera tickets range from $50 to $300, with the prospect of the topmost late fee skyrocketing to $600, if not paid within 30 business days. If passed, the four bills would likely soften the financial impact of steep fines and fees on city residents and upon low-income motorists and drivers residing in the city. The Council will mull:
B22-0204 – The Traffic and Parking Ticket Penalty Amendment Act of 2017. As introduced, this bill “eliminates the financial penalties for failure to pay certain civil motor vehicle infractions within 30 days” (Introduced by Councilmembers T. White, R. White, Cheh, Evans, McDuffie, and Bonds. Co-sponsored by Councilmembers Grosso and Allen).
B22-0237 - Parking Ticket Waiver Act of 2017. This bill requires the “waiver of some parking infractions if the registered owner of the vehicle can prove that they did not receive notice of the infraction” (Introduced by Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember McDuffie).
B22-0410 - Parking and Moving Violation Amnesty Act of 2017. The measure “requires the Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles to implement an amnesty program for District residents who owe more than $1,000 for certain motor vehicle violations. The bill would require the resident to pay 60 percent of the fines owed and the remaining balance would be waived.” (Introduced by Councilmember T. White. Co-sponsors: Councilmembers Nadeau, Gray, and Silverman).
B22-0488 - Ticket Payment Plan Amendment Act of 2017. If adopted, this legislation “establishes a deferred payment plan for persons seeking to discharge $100 or more in delinquent debt incurred through the commission of moving, parking, or non-moving infractions. No more than two (2) deferred payment plans are allowed in a 12-month period.” (Introduced by Councilmember Cheh. Co-sponsors: Councilmembers Allen, McDuffie, Todd, Silverman, Evans, Grosso, and Nadeau).
The four measures, including the parking ticket waiver act, and the deferred ticket payment plan, are championed by AAA Mid-Atlantic. In 2016, the District issued 994,163 speed camera tickets and also collected an unprecedented $99.1 million in speed camera ticket revenue. Remarkably, the District has issued 5.4 million speed camera tickets regardless of whom was driving the vehicle at the time and raked in $535.7 million in speed camera revenue since FY2007. Moreover, peripatetic parking meter enforcers issued 1,577,278 parking citations during FY 2016, and the city gleaned $68,289,233 in parking ticket revenue. Since FY 2010, the city has issued 12,820,599 parking tickets and raked in $585,621,804 in parking ticket revenue. The powerful Committee on Transportation and the Environment and the Committee on Finance and Revenue will hold a joint public hearing on the four measures Friday morning, October 27, 2017, at 11:00 A.M
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