City Splurges on Boots

Will the new parking "scofflaw" enforcement even cover its costs?

The City of Seattle’s new “scofflaw” parking program will attach immobilizing boots to the vehicles of people who have four or more unpaid parking tickets. About 25,000 vehicles are in scofflaw status, owing the city up to $25 million in unpaid fines.

Meter maids (and men) with license-plate-recognition technology will patrol Seattle streets, scanning and clamping. The vehicle owners will have two days to phone in to a remote call center or their car will be towed and eventually auctioned. Once their fine is paid, the scofflaws will be given a number code to dial into the boot to unlock it.

It’s been reported that the program will bring an estimated $4.2 million into the city’s general fund over the next two years. However, that’s a gross figure, not net; it does not take into account the myriad expenses the city will incur.

Neither the just-passed city budget nor the fiscal note attached to it give a total price. But pages 378, 405, and 478 of the budget reveal some of the expenses—totaling almost a million dollars, or about half the projected scofflaw revenue for the first year.

This includes $95,000 for two new parking-enforcement officers; $127,000 to purchase equipment, scooters, and radios; $206,000 for two parking-enforcement supervisors; $243,000 for overtime pay; and $192,000 for equipment. Another $65,000 has been budgeted for “outreach and public education” to ensure that “race and social-justice principles are incorporated into the program,” as well as $17,000 for additional mailings.

Hundreds of wheel clamps will be needed, and each 16-pound apparatus costs roughly $500. Tim Killian, senior advisor to Mayor Mike McGinn, said that the city will not be purchasing the digitized boots; instead their leased cost will be factored into the bid from the third-party contractor that will run the program (at a cost to the city that seems likely to be in the six figures).

Killian said that parking-enforcement officers would not be going on private property or driveways to apply the boot, but would focus their patrols on public roads and right-of-ways. Once a boot is removed, the violator will then have to take the clamp to a drop-off center. But isn’t it farfetched to expect someone with a habit of refusing to pay parking tickets to suddenly become responsible enough to return a $500 piece of equipment, instead of furiously chucking it into Elliott Bay?

The issue is compounded by the fact that wheel boots are remarkably easy to defeat. A quick Internet search detailed a half-dozen ways to remove a boot, the simplest being to deflate your tire and slide the thing off.

Killian admonished any would-be Houdini that stealing, damaging, vandalizing, or removing the boot without proper payment would result in further fines and/or charges of theft.