Representatives from Mayor Michael Nutter's administration tried in vain yesterday to get a City Council committee to amend or table a bill allowing Philadelphians to contest parking tickets online or over the phone in a discussion that became somewhat of a showdown.
One one side were Council members eager to please constituents that regularly call with horror stories describing wrongly-issued citations, dismal customer service and hours-long waits at Traffic Court. On the other was a cash-strapped city with no wiggle room to hire more staff to review appeal requests, whose amount would conceivably increase under the bill as tickets become more convenient to contest.
"We believe there should be some threshold of commitment in order to contest a ticket. If people have to do nothing but send it in, frivolous appeals could outweigh our ability to deal with legitimate appeals," Director of the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication Jeremiah Connors said. "We're overwhelmed as it is. Anything we would do that would increase the volume of hearings, we would have to add staff."
But bill sponsor Councilman Bill Green remained unconvinced. "There will be an initial uptick [in appeals] and then when people realize they’re just as likely to get a 'no' through this method, it will go down," he said.
"I actually think their in-person appeals volume will be reduced significantly as a result of this and it will be more efficient for the city," he clarified later.
"In person or not, every appeal takes time and resources to address, whether it's earnest or just, 'Oh, I'll give it a whirl,'" Connors shot back. "People will be contesting just to see if they have a chance – it will be like a slot machine."
The bureau said it would be amenable to receiving evidence via email regarding contested tickets, like scanned documents or photographs, but objected to the portions of the bill requiring live hearings on the telephone or internet. "It's important for there to be a somewhat formal setting for these as a matter of logistics, decorum and case management," Connors said.
Green said he will attempt to compromise with the administration and that the bill could be up for a vote in late June.
Though no final decision on the parking adjudication issue was made yesterday, City Council still broke new ground – for the first time in history, citizens were allowed to tweet their testimony.
"Tweet at me before 2pm about why being able to appeal your parking tickets online (instead of in person) would be helpful #phlpark," Green wrote this afternoon via @Green4Philly. He then compiled pertinent responses into a Storify account and notified each user that their tweets would be submitted for inclusion in Council's official record.
"This is the first time Tweets have been submitted as official testimony in Philadelphia. Definitely doing it again," Green later followed up.
By the numbers
13. Percent of parking tickets written are appealed in Philadelphia.
16,000. Parking tickets are reviewed by the city's Bureau of Administrative Adjudication for possible appeal each month.
1,138,134. Parking tickets have been issued in Philadelphia this fiscal year through March 31.
145,019. Parking tickets have been scheduled or rescheduled for a hearing so this fiscal year through March 31.
12.3. Percent of those appeals have resulted in a dismissal of the ticket.
50. Percent, approximately, of those scheduled for an appeal never follow through.