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Metro

Drivers get a break as parking tickets decline

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A vehicle at Copley Square was ticketed last week. The area by 500 Boylston St., just down from Copley Square, was among the sites where the most parking citations have been issued.

The number of parking tickets issued in Boston has dropped nearly 13 percent during the past three years, a rare detente in the city’s parking wars that has spared drivers more than 200,000 citations, according to a Globe review of records.

In an era of strained budgets, the city might have been expected to intensify parking enforcement to bring in more revenue. Instead, the city has trimmed its fleet of parking officers and installed new card-friendly meters that have made it easier for drivers to pay.

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“I know people don’t necessarily believe it, but we’re not all about revenue,’’ said Thomas Tinlin, commissioner of the city’s transportation department. “We look at tickets as a deterrent.’’

But for the legions of exasperated drivers who have come up a quarter short, run a couple of minutes late, or gone a bumper too far, the decline is a clear victory.

In 2009, the city handed out 1.63 million bright-orange tickets, or more than 4,400 a day. In 2011, that number had dropped to 1.42 million, according to a Globe review of city parking records.

Tinlin cited a number of factors for the decline, such as increased use of public transportation and a greater effort by drivers to avoid tickets. Other major cities have experienced similar declines, he said.

“I don’t think it’s an enforcement issue at all,’’ Tinlin said. “I think it’s a change in behavior, which is our goal. It’s one more bill that’s frankly avoidable.’’

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Violations can range from $25 for an expired meter to $120 for parking in a handicapped spot without a permit.

Tinlin said the department has gradually lost about 45 parking enforcement officers during the past few years, a 23 percent decline. But he said the smaller staff is providing the same level of enforcement, even in the busiest parts of the city.

“The staffing drop was by design,’’ he said. “We just had too many people, and the goal is to be as efficient with our deployment as we can.’’

With the decline in tickets, revenue dropped as well, from $66.2 million in 2009 to $61.8 million last fiscal year.

But additional money from the meters is offsetting the drop in ticket revenue. During the past few years, the city has installed new models that allow some kind of credit or prepaid card payment, making it easier for drivers to pay for the maximum time on meters. The new meters also are harder to tamper with to avoid payment. Meter revenue last year was $14.1 million, up from $11 million in 2009.

“The days of carrying around a pocketful of quarters are over,’’ Tinlin said.

But the latest figures show that the number of parking violations may be on the rise. So far this fiscal year, which began in July, the number of tickets issued are up more than 2 percent compared with last year.

Violations have been particularly abundant in the Back Bay. Leading the way was the intersection of Charles and Boylston streets by Boston Common, where 5,310 tickets were handed out from 2009 through 2011. The intersection of Charles and Beacon just down the street was the second-most-ticketed, at 4,609.

Third, with 4,010 tickets, was 500 Boylston St., just down from Copley Square. Fourth was 201 Newbury St., between Exeter and Fairfield, and fifth was 31 St. James Ave., a couple of blocks from Copley Square.

Beside the Public Garden on Saturday, many parkers could share first-hand experiences of being ticketed in that area - sometimes, mere minutes after the meter expired. They had learned to check their watch before heading off, or even set an alarm on their phone as a safeguard.

“I get a ticket every third time I’m here,’’ said Jeff Masin, a musician from New York, as he fed the meter on Charles Street. “What can you do in the city in two hours?’’

Masin, 53, said he carries a bag of quarters in his car for the meters, but was encouraged to hear that more city meters now accept credit cards.

“That gives people a chance,’’ he said.

Parkers said they were thrilled that the number of tickets given out had declined. People could use the break, especially these days, they said.

“In an economy like this, who can afford to give their money to the city?’’ said Baljinder Nijjar, of East Boston. “I think a lot of people are being more careful.’’

Around the corner, Amit Basole of Brighton was delighted to learn that tickets were on the slide. He recalled the time he got a ticket just seconds after the meter expired. It rankles him to this day, he said.

City parking officers are especially prolific on certain dates, namely the first day of the month, when registration and inspection stickers expire.

On the first day of September 2009, for instance, almost 8,000 tickets were doled out, the most in the three-year span the Globe reviewed.

By month, April was the cruelest for drivers, as neighborhood street sweeping begins, followed closely by September (welcome back, students!). The winter months posted far fewer tickets.

On the other end of the scale, drivers had far less to fear on holidays, when some parking rules are in effect but meters are off. Parking enforcers may even have some Christmas spirit. On Christmas 2010, for example, just 14 tickets were given out across the city.

By day, Tuesdays were the busiest, with 855,375 tickets handed out on that day during a three-year span. Sundays were the slowest, with just over 67,000. Noon to 1 p.m. is prime-time for tickets, with 518,000, and the slowest period is between 5 am and 6 am. Still, parking officers issued about 20,000 tickets at that hour.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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