The system is broken - and we can fix it...

The city of Wilmington is in the process of becoming a truly awesome city - a place where entrepreneurs, artists, educators, and businesses create incredible things.

Since October of 2011, the citizens, business community, arts community, Wilmington City Officials, and others have been engaged in improving the parking and parking enforcement issues in the city of Wilmington.

Huge progress has been made and the direction we are going as a community is extremely positive!

This blog chronicles the efforts of all who helped make this happen...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why I filed a Freedom Of Information Act Request:

On November 11, 2011, I filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the city of Wilmington.

I requested the following information:

1. The Number of parking tickets issued in Wilmington between January of 2010 and October of 2011
2. The number of parking tickets that were appealed during that time
3. The number of appeals that were successful

Based on the stories I've heard on WDEL's Rick Jensen show, read in the News Journal, and have received from various people, it sounds like the city is issuing a lot of illegitimate parking tickets, leading to more wasted time for city officials and more frustration for those who get the tickets.

I believe the goal should be to have as few tickets as possible appealed - this would be an efficient use of city employees time and will significantly cut down the amount of frustration currently being felt by many who live, work, and enjoy the city of Wilmington.

getting a ticket before getting to the meter...

I just spent close to 20 minutes on hold at (302) 571-4320 - the phone number on the ticket - and was finally transfered to a Ms. Fletcher's voice mail and left my complaint regarding "officer" Edwards.

I am livid! I had just pulled up in front of 1200 Market St to go into Merrill Lynch and make a bank deposit when the Meter Maid walked by and mouthed to me to put money in the meter. I immediately began gathering my papers and digging in my purse from change when she circled back and started recording my license plate in her computer. I would guesstimate a minute or less had passed from the time I "parked" and got out of the vehicle.

Perhaps my outburst of "you're not really issuing me a ticket" as I began to put a dime in the meter upset her... though I think she already had her mind made up to issue one... and she then printed out a $40 "expired meter" violation and placed it on my windshield and continued on her way.

Ironically, there's a spot across the street that's missing a meter head and although there is no yellow paint, I purposely made a u-turn and pulled into a metered spot to avoid a ticket!

There's a record of my being upset since I called 911 and then was given another phone number for the city upon which I left a scathing incident report.

From another resident:

I live in LOMA on the 200 block of N. Market, so I have a residential parking permit area X. In the past 6wks I received two parking tickets for exceeding the 2hr time limit in two separate locations in the past 6wks. I have my sticker on the correct area of my car according to the City regulations. I have lived here since May 2011.

Parking ticket #1: Parked on the 200 block of N. Orange St near Del Tech in an area designated with my parking sticker- $40.
Parking ticket #2: Parked on the 200 block of Shipley St behind Zaika, Extreme Pizza, etc in an area designated with my parking sticker- $40.

I have appealed both tickets and have received a positive response on one so far. What is surprising is that the City of Wilmington has a $40 ticket for the same violation that costs people in Philly $26. I applaud the City in that they have responded in a timely manner and that I can appeal the violation via mail (instead of having to appear in court in Philly), but it shouldn't have happened in the first place. Funny how things work :) Have you heard from anyone else?

From a student living in Wilmington:

Over the course of last year and already this year i have gotten a ridiculous amount of parking tickets. I couldnt understand what was going on, i live in between 5th and 4th on Shipley street. Now i went down to the place to get my parking pass 3 days before school started so i would be prepared for the upcoming school year. When i got there i specifically requested the teller to print me a map of the Student Parking (which apparently is a part of a residential pass, which no one at the parking place ever told me) so i could make sure i could park in front of my apartment. When i go the map i was extremely excited that i could park in front of my apartment door so me and my art school roommates wouldnt get mugged or raped trying to get to my parked car over on west or tatnall.. considering there are over 25 registered sex offenders on that street.. coincidentally where you guys were trying to make us park last year. however that issue has been fixed. My current issue is that the map i had requested to be printed from the teller turned out to be an expired map. i only figured this out because i got at least 2-3 parking tickets in the same spot i park in EVERYDAY. Apparently the current map doesnt include shipley anymore. All the street signs EXCEPT the one in front of my apartment door (mid way down shipley up to 5th st) say "Residential Parking Pass not permitted". Two things, why is a student parking pass considered a residential parking pass? and Why are the idiotic and poorly trained WPA giving me tickets in a sector of shipley that DOES NOT have a sign saying i cant park there? When i called the parking place about why i'm getting tickets and they keep saying that you still need to feed the meters. Can you tell me how in what state of mind of any consciousness at all would it make a lick of sense for me to spend $100 for 6 months (which by the way is ALSO ridiculous. we are art students, we dont make a lot of money and we spend most of it on art supplies. Spending $200 dollars on 2 parking passes for the year is stupid. We are here for 8 months.. thats it 8, not 12. There NEEDS to be some sort of student parking pass for DCAD students some sort of in between so we dont have to waste those extra dollars when we dont even live in this horrid city. In case you didnt know, DCAD is the only thing is damn 'city' that brings any art and peace of mind to this disgusting pervert-filled place. Whomever decided the parking rules concerning the student parking is a true imbecile.

Basically my point in this rant is the WPA needs to be trained to look in both approved spots for the parking pass before trying to give any of us tickets and also to look up for once and check the sign to see that there is no "residential parking pass not permitted" signs, cause where i park, theres not. Another things is, if the tellers are going to give someone a map, make sure they give them the RIGHT one.

NOTE: The city says this issue has been resolved

And the stories started coming:

We park our car across from our house in zone Z on Orange St. It's been parked there everyday since the city zoned the street zone Z. We got ticketed twice this week (October 21st at 11:02 AM and October 25th at 11:06 AM). I attached a picture of our truck where it is parked, and the visible "Z parking zone" sign next to our truck.

We own, live and work in our building on the corner of 8th and Orange. Our upstairs address is 800 N. Orange St., Wilmington, DE 19801 our business address is Poppycock Tattoo, 115 W 8th St., Wilmington, DE 19801. We are annoyed that we have to continually deal with our car getting ticketed. We have to call the number on the back of the ticket, they tell us we need to send a picture to prove we have a sticker, then wait for them to "review the appeal" and in the meantime we get another ticket and have to do the process all over again. We thought the issue was resolved after months of fighting ticket after ticket when we first moved here, and now the problem is back again. We have received at least 20 unjustified tickets since we've lived here. It's extremely frustrating.

NOTE: The City of Wilmington has now addressed this issue

Next, was this...

So, ever since Town Square Delaware published my piece on the whole parking in Wilmington issue and Rick Jensen has shared the information on his show, I've been getting dozens of stories from people about their experiences in Delaware's largest city, including:

- Individuals getting tickets for parking in handicapped parking spaces, even though they had clearly marked tags and stickers
- People finding out about their parking tickets in the mail with a late fee
- Tickets issued to business people in loading zones - while they are loading
- A car being "booted" for parking tickets from 7 years ago, which were paid, then the car owner having to pay for the boot removal, even though it was the city that was in the wrong
- As the News Journal reported earlier this year, parking tickets issued while time is still on the parking meter

I've been facing this crisis of conscience - should I continue to promote events, concerts, conferences, and more in the city of Wilmington knowing that you, my trusted friends, could be subjected to the horrors of an unjust, draconian, heartless, arguably brainless bureaucracy that seems to have no real oversight from Wilmington City Officials? While I want to support the business owners and organizations in the city who are making incredible things happen, and I want you to know about awesome events and opportunities, I can't put you at the mercy of an overzealous organization that seems to regularly ignore logic, decency, and the law in an effort to issue as many tickets as possible - legitimate or not.

Then it hit me - with every event I let you know about in Wilmington, I'll include a "Risk-o-meter" rating to let you know how much you may be at risk for getting a ticket. This will be based on the location of the event and the time of day/week.

If the risk is moderate to high, I recommend parking at a garage or using public transportation to get to the venue (my wife and I have done this a couple of times - it's fun, convenient, and cheaper than driving!).

I hope you find this useful - and please, if you have a parking story, feel free to share it with me.

How this all started...

My friend had received a notice in the mail that they had an overdue parking ticket and that they owed the city of Wilmington more than $100 and that the fine would continue to grow until they paid the money.
So, my friend went to the Department of Finance on the 5th Floor of the Louis L. Redding City/County Building at 800 North French Street in Wilmington, Delaware (zip code 19801).
Apparently the conversation went something like this:

Friend: I just got this notice in the mail saying that I am past due for a parking ticket and I didn’t know I had a parking ticket until just now.
Wilmington Official: Are you here to pay your ticket and late fine?
Friend: Well, yes, I want to get this cleared up, if I had known I had a parking ticket I would have paid it right away – is there any way to take off the late fine, since I’m just now finding out about this?
Wilmington Official: It’s your responsibility to know if you have a parking ticket.
Friend: Wait, are you saying I should call regularly to find out if I have a parking ticket?
Wilmington Official: Yes
Friend: um, OK, that’s good to know in the future, but since this is the first time, can I just pay for the parking ticket?
Wilmington Official: According to our computers, since you haven’t paid the ticket yet, we can boot your car.
Friend: Really?
Wilmington Official: Yes, you are a scofflaw and you probably don’t pay your other bills on time.

When I heard this I was shocked!
I didn’t realize it was my responsibility to make sure I didn’t have unpaid parking tickets, I do not want to be a scofflaw – I want to be a responsible citizen.
I’m sharing this because I believe you, too, want to be a responsible citizen.
So, starting today, we should make sure that we do the right thing:
Call the Wilmington Department of Finance/Division of Revenue at 302-576-2400 between 9:30 AM and 4:00 PM and say the following:
Hello, my name is _____________ and I understand it is my responsibility as a good citizen to make sure I do not have any unpaid parking tickets. Could you please check to see if I have a parking ticket? My license plate number is _____________.
Thank you very much for your help.
Again, if you want to be a good citizen and not a scofflaw, then you should call 302-576-2400 to make sure you do not have any unpaid parking tickets.
Oh, and since we all learn new things from these experiences, I encourage you to share any new information you gain from your phone calls in the comments section.
I hope this effort at public service is useful and effective.