Sunday, June 27, 2010

All Time Worst Tickets #3 Parking Violations Bureau – Corrupt or Incompetent? (golden oldies)

This 2nd to last contestant for best worst parking ticket changed the way I think about tickets forever. It woke me to a higher reality, a reality where truth is relative and right and wrong are the sole property of a few underemployed attorneys who go by the name of Administrative Law Judge. One night I parked my car in the same spot described in the last post (broken into and moved back a space). Hey, it’s right in front of my building and we all know that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
The next day I notice it has a ticket on it for parking in a school zone. Only I clearly am in front of the school parking sign and, what’s more, I have been parking in the same spot for years and have never had a ticket. I contest the ticket and I get a letter back from the Parking Violations Bureau (PVB) saying that my issue is not one for the PVB court system, it is “a job for the Sign Verification Bureau” and, for a moment, I do even hear that TV voice announcer baritone above the soaring in of Underdog, or Superman, or my third grade teacher, Mrs. Rigazzi. They explain that the Sign Verification Bureau will send out an officer to verify the sign is as I say and then my ticket will be dismissed. This sounds so great, so rational and reasonable, that I immediately send in the information and forget about it.
One day I get a letter from the Sign Verification Bureau. It says “GUILTY.” I can’t believe what I am reading and, what’s more, I am confused on two fronts. First, the space was legal. I have parked there before and since and not had a ticket. Second, I thought I wasn’t going through the PVB court system, but now, all of a sudden, I am pronounced GUILTY as if I had my day in court, and the judge was on crack! Now, my only recourse is to “Appeal” which means I have to pay a fee and submit my case to a panel of 3 appeals judges (so called) who, after several months will tell me if I have to pay this ridiculous ticket.
As annoying as it is, I decide I have to Appeal. I know it’s not like the Innocence Project cases where a guy does hard time for 15 years and then is proven innocent, but I can’t stand the idea of paying a fine for a faulty ticket, a bad ticket that for very questionable reasons was given the seal of approval by the Sign Verification Bureau. We can’t just let the city run amok and send out any uniformed henchman they please to rob us honest citizens of our hard earned money!
And what exactly was the Sign Verification Bureau doing finding that the space was illegal? How could they have? It’s not like the arrow is unclear. It clearly points East. I was parked West of the sign and the street number on the ticket is generously located West of the sign. It is unlikely a trained PVB officer could have gone there and seen anything other than the truth, but two trained PVB officers from two different branches? There was just no way. Then, I saw it all clearly: no one ever came out and looked at the sign. They only claimed they did. Maybe they used the same database I used to create our parking map, but that database is not linked to street numbers, so there would have been no way to tell from the database alone if that particular 10 feet of prime NY curb space was legal parking. Someone lied. But then I thought maybe their Sign Verification Bureau officer is just really dense. Not a liar. Maybe they hire their Sign Verification Bureau officers as part of some kind of affirmative action for the lazy and stupid.
Corrupt or incompetent, my course was clear. I wrote an Appeal. This time I was actually allowed to present a case and took photographs of the signs, and, as my forensic essay of the crime scene grew, I realized I could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the space in front of that street number and next to that school was legal at the time of my ticket. Orbiting that signpost as if it was the Sun and I the Earth, I took a circular progression of photographs and each one kept the signpost with the School Parking Sign pointing East and the Alternate Side restriction pointing West in the frame. Starting with the North view of the Parking Signs in front of a playground sign with the name of the school, I continued around the Parking Signs until the street number on the ticket was clearly visible on the side of the Alternate Side Parking only restriction. Well in front of the School Parking restriction sign. I nailed it! Thanks to that playground sign with the name of the school I had unmistakably proved that this space was legal and that it was the space described on the ticket!
I knew I was going to win the Appeal, but the whole episode had such a bad taste, I decided to make a point. So, I wrote a careful description of the events and how “even today” New Yorkers park in that space without getting a ticket. I explained how the "27 3 x 5 color prints with an explanation on the back of each one” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was a legal parking space. Then I added a little something that probably still rankles those judges to this day:
“proving yet again that the PVB is either incompetent or corrupt.”
My feeling was these judges, being arbiters of truth and justice, would have to find me Not Guilty and thus sanction into the legal record my very deserving insult of the Sign Verification Bureau and the PVB. Their only alternative was to decide against their own honest certainty and in so doing violate their sacred oaths and their own consciences. I couldn’t wait for the outcome.
It was unanimous. All three found me GUILTY! Really? I mean not one of the three had enough integrity or conscience to find in my favor? The explanation given was a not so subtle hint, “Argument not persuasive,” telling me right there that right or wrong don’t matter if my tone is not pleading enough.
I don’t know what’s become of the very sketchy Sign Verification Bureau. I have never heard of them again, nor did I want to. I do know that that was the day I decided to contest every parking ticket I ever had or would have, whether or not I was innocent or guilty. Guilt or innocence didn’t count when their sensitive egos were on the line, so why should they count for me when my hard earned money is being taken from me at their egotistical whim. And it’s been a good system more or less. Sometimes a technicality or the caprice of a judge would determine that I win in a case where I was clearly deserving of the ticket. Others, I would lose when the ticket was obviously bad, probably because my argument was not persuasive. I suspect most of you have reached the same conclusion about your tickets or tows. The hell with right or wrong, the PVB and us have found a way to co-exist. On their terms, of course.
As for whether this is the worst of the three tickets... only you can decide.

Still looking for a copy of that decision and when I find it I will publish these judges’ names, so we can all marvel at how far their careers have come in the last 20 years.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The All time Worst Parking Tickets # 2

          Another very qualified candidate for worst ticket is a little hard to believe. The police didn’t. On a scale of slightly to most extreme, this was way beyond that. One night I had been working late and I drove home to look for a space, prepared for the worst, but, by the grace of the parking gods, I found one right across from my building. Many of us in the human race have experienced an incredibly unusual event, a relative overcoming a fatal diagnosis, a solar eclipse, the immaculate conception, but, after a long hard day’s night of work, this was truly wondrous!
          Late the next morning when I came out on my stoop, ready to bask in the miracle of the night before, my car was missing (have that T-shirt!). Then just as I was leaping from the strategies of theft to the strategies of tow, I saw it. It was right there in front of me only not where I had left it, but one space back. It had a ticket on it. I looked at the sign towering ominously over the hood of the car and saw that instead of the legal space in front of that sign my car was now behind the sign and in a school zone. I walked disbelievingly to the car and saw something that if the possibility had ever even occurred to me I would have been absolutely positive that it would never happen.
          The vent window had been smashed! Someone broke into my car, put it in neutral, and pushed it back so that they could take my space. This was possibly the most heinous parking crime ever committed. This could only have been the work of the Dark Lord himself, but actually he was not even in office then. Now, I had a broken window and a ticket. For those of you who are shaking their heads that there must be some other explanation, I assure you one look into my car would have discouraged any common thief. Nothing was taken (from inside anyway), nothing rummaged. Why else would they go to the trouble of moving the car back? They simply took my space, probably knew my schedule, and were gone by the time I woke up.
          By a lucky coincidence a police car came down my block. I flagged the two officers and told them what had happened. They didn’t believe me, thought I was trying to get out of a parking ticket, REALLY didn’t want to do any paper work. I pointed out to the driver that my window was smashed, why would I want to do that, at the very least it was my right to report a break in, but he wasn’t interested and told me to report it to the prescint, but they weren’t going to believe it either. I showed him where my broken glass was forward, where it was legal to park. He started to pull away.
          Just when I was starting to believe that all the negative publicity about New York is true, his partner spoke up and the driver stopped. His partner said why don’t they just write it up now and save me, the victim of a break in after all, the trouble of going into the station. (They really do take this Good Cop/Bad Cop thing seriously.) So the driver wrote it up and gave me a complaint number. The Good Cop told me to contest the ticket by using the complaint number and, as if two miracles weren’t enough, I beat the ticket. Anybody still want to claim that New York is not the toughest parking city in this country?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The All time Worst Parking Tickets #1

The 3 Worst Tickets I have ever received and one that almost got me killed (a really long story in many parts).
          When it comes to parking tickets, it is so hard to choose the worst. They are all so worthy, but since I have noticed several people showing up on my site lately with search terms like “rights when car towed for movie” and since I know that pain I’ll begin there just in case something I say will be of any use. We all know we are responsible for our car wherever it is on the street, but besides the occasional taxicab-yellow dents in the doors and the odd broken window with glove compartment contents strewn all over the floor, we do expect things to be pretty much as we left them. We certainly don’t expect to be ambushed overnight by our own city, and be hit yet again with another car tax this time in the name of that all American industry that we all so love, the movies. I don’t know what neighborhood you live in but on the Upper West Side, it happens every month, sometimes several times a month.
          Yes, for the price of a permit that has been free since 1966, the city can tow you for any movie or television production location, but the good news is they do not charge you for the tow, they just move you to the “next available parking space.” Yeah right. I can’t find the exact rules for exercising your film parking permits on the MOFTB site, but a friend of mine has been in that business for a few years and this is what he says.
          Film companies are not actually required to post signs on the block to alert you of their parking space permits, but the city requests that they give at least 24 hours notice before they start enforcing their reserved parking. When I told him that didn’t sound right, he told me of a time when a film he was organizing parking for had him reserve a bridge up on 158th street when they had given no notice at all. A whole lot of angry motorists woke up one morning and found their cars missing. There was mob anger and many threats but the log of where the cars had been towed was brought out and calmed things a little. One by one most went off to retrieve their cars, but the angry mob drove back to the location, complained of damage to their cars and demanded permit and company identification as they vowed to sue. Being sued was the least of my friend’s worries in the face of so many red faced New Yorkers wielding guns and machetes (practically).
          In my experience film productions do give at least 24 hour notice and usually more which is fairly considerate until you are looking for a parking space and you have 3 different productions in your neighborhood at one time and one of them has reserved ten or twenty blocks or hundreds of parking spaces just for itself and most of which Brad and Angelina never even used. Then you are drowning in a sea of orange cones that look like life preservers that no one will throw to you. And before you go off on the parking guys who often eat, drink and sleep in their control car, remember they already suffer that dunce cone on their roof, and are harassed by everybody, the film crew, angry drivers and pedestrians, even the 5 a.m. drunks, and often get tickets for their control cars, usually having to pay unless they can prove their permit was properly displayed.
          So we are responsible for our cars, but we don’t (can’t) always check up on them. Sometimes we are lucky enough to pass by our cars, like I was when I was walking my dog one night some years back, and see that the car is doing fine and all is well with the world. I so enjoyed that feeling of world peace that the following night I walked my dog past the same spot but this time found the whole block lit up and my car was long gone! In its place were a lot of limos and police and wherever there are limos and police there are also crowds. I worked my way through the crowd and asked after my car and I was told that it had been towed for the Seinfeld closing party. That’s right, our beloved Jerry had my car towed so that his and Kramer’s limos could park equally close to their cast party.
          I protested and the NYPD officer on duty (a free NYC service offered to location sets) pointed to a paper notice taped to a tree. I told him, and the whole crowd around us, that I had walked by there last night and there was no sign. Judging by the sharpness with which the officer implied I was a liar either he was the one responsible for putting up those notices and he knew he was late or he was just sick of hearing about it. I was sent to “Jill” who was tracking what “nearest available parking space” each car was towed to, but she was having trouble reading the log and griped about inconsistencies in the tow truck drivers’ reports while she gave me several possible addresses.
          Turns out my “next available space” was a bus stop and it had a ticket. So, with little or no notice, the city allowed the Seinfeld Show to tow my car to a bus stop where it could hinder or even endanger public transportation and where I had to pay a $75 fine, all for a f*#*ing party! My friend tells me that local traffic enforcement is supposed to be notified of the towing and not to write tickets on towed cars for 12 hours, but that sometimes not everybody gets the message. And he actually believes that! Then he claimed that the film production company should take responsibility for that ticket, but when I went back to complain about the ticket, Jill (you know, with the log that didn’t even have my car correctly identified and was so full of inconsistencies that it wouldn’t stand a chance of holding up in court) had apparently been misplaced or misfiled and none of the tow truck drivers could remember where they put her.

Sunday, June 6, 2010 Street Parking Map for Manhattan has gone Mobile!

Now, at no extra cost, you can access the street parking map book pages with your mobile phone. Just direct your IPhone, Android HTC Evo or many other touch screen phones to and log in with your Plan or Plan Plus Member ID and Password. Your new touch screen mobile link is actually a mobile book and is divided into the same pages as the Street Parking Map Handbook (Ver 1.1) now in print. There are helpful Intro pages, but if you choose to View the Map right away, you will land on a complete image map of Manhattan. Scroll to the bottom to get the full view of its 5 chapters or Parts. Then just touch the Part of Manhattan where you want to find out about parking. This links you to a close-up Part Map of the different pages. Touch the Page closest to the area you want to look at and you are there! Zoom and Pan buttons help you move around the Page or to an adjacent Page. There are also buttons to take you back to the Main or most recent Part Map.
Now when your friends (who are already late) call from the Verrazano Bridge asking is there any free or pay parking in Tribecca (where you are getting somewhat under the influence waiting for them), you can send them to or go there yourself.
And, of course, there is always the main Map where you can choose your preferred layers and print your own version, or the available-for-sale Street Parking Map Handbook (Ver 1.1) for those who like to keep this kind of information under the seat or in the glove compartment.

So give this new, free resource a try!