In need of fresh air after months of being cooped up, Dan Simovici and his wife hopped in the car on Aug. 26 and headed to the Seaport District for a cooling stroll along Boston Harbor.
On Fan Pier Boulevard, Simovici pulled his Mazda into what looked like a legal parking space. The white lines on the pavement, the signs giving notice of a two-hour parking limit, and the nearby brown metal kiosk for paying the $3.75 hourly fee — it all made him believe this was an ordinary spot under the jurisdiction of the City of Boston and subject to state law.
So Simovici, a 77-year-old college professor, and his wife sauntered off, unconcerned about getting ticketed. He has a disability, and under state law is exempt from street parking fees, so they didn’t feed the kiosk. His disability placard was prominently displayed, dangling from his rear-view mirror.
When they returned an hour later there was a $40, official-looking “ticket” under the windshield wiper.
Why? Because, despite its appearances, Fan Pier Boulevard and a couple of surrounding streets are actually private property, dating back to 2007, when the Fallon Co. began transforming a sprawling dirt parking lot into a new multibillion-dollar neighborhood of sleek glass office buildings and lavish waterfront condos.
The streets in question are owned by the various property owners in the neighborhood, among them some of the most wealthy in the city, through a corporation, which delegates parking and ticketing to a real estate management firm. The revenue from parking is used for upkeep of the streets, but the management company won’t say how much is collected in a year.
After getting tagged, Simovici wondered how he was supposed to have known he had strayed onto private property. (Northern Avenue, only feet away from his parking space, is public.) He looked around, but found no signs or other notice. If he had been warned, Simovici said, he would have parked elsewhere.
“If it’s private, then OK, post it, so there’s no confusion,” Simovici said. “Without notice, it’s deceptive and unfair.”
I spent a couple of hours scouring the Fan Pier neighborhood. The only hint of its status as private property I found was “PVT WAY” written on the signs that give the names of the streets, 15 feet above the sidewalks, which I suspect are not widely noticed or understood.
Exasperated, Simovici immediately called Pilgrim Parking, which was listed on the ticket as having an administrative role in parking enforcement. He said he told a Pilgrim representative that the law exempted him from paying for street parking and that he had thought he was on a public street.
“But they summarily denied my appeal and said goodbye,” he said.
The next day, Simovici went to the website listed on the ticket and clicked on the request for an appeal. Within hours, he received a two-sentence e-mail saying his appeal had been “reviewed” by Pilgrim and denied.
At that point, Simovici had only six days left to pay the fine without being assessed what Pilgrim said would be a late fee of $15. He decided to pay the $40, plus the required $3.50 service charge.
“I don’t care about the $40; it’s not going to change my life,” he said. “But I feel like I was taken advantage of.”
I agree. If “PVT WAY” is meant to wave off people with handicapped placards, then it’s clearly not effective. (Besides those with disabilities, the law also exempts veterans with disabilities from paying for street parking.) On my neighborhood tour, I counted 44 parking spaces subject to private enforcement, none of them designated for disability parking, which I also think is outrageous.
Gregory Rooney, interim commissioner of Boston’s transportation department, said Fan Pier is the only commercial development of its kind he is aware of that has private parking enforcement.
“It’s a quirky and confusing thing,” he said. “But the city is not involved in it.”
Nor does the city endorse it, he said.
In researching privately issued parking tickets, I came across an 11-page opinion of former California attorney general Kamala Harris. In it, Harris concluded in 2011 that private property owners have no legal authority to issue parking citations imposing monetary sanctions and that such citations “are unenforceable against the vehicle owners.”
I could find no evidence of a similar case in Massachusetts. And in the absence of a legal challenge, people like Simovici apparently feel compelled to pay the “tickets” they receive. Simovici, for example, said he paid his fine to “avoid entanglements" with the state Registry of Motor Vehicles. But the RMV has no involvement and is not notified of unpaid private parking tickets, which it is if you neglect to pay tickets issued by municipalities.
If misunderstanding is rampant among those who are ticketed on Fan Pier, the reason is clear: The tickets look a lot like those issued by the City of Boston. At the top, “Parking Violation Notice” is printed in big block letters, similar to city tickets.
On the back of both kinds of tickets is a grid of little boxes, filled in with such information as violation code, fine amount, even a “badge number.” (While in the neighborhood, I observed a man in a “Fan Pier Security” jacket issuing tickets.) The kiosks, produced by the same manufacturer, are also nearly identical to the city’s.
“It looks like they have mimicked everything we do,” Rooney said.
In reality, the tickets are probably unenforceable. I doubt there is any recourse for the issuer if “violators” simply throw them away. Yet they apparently look enough like the real thing to go unquestioned.
After this column was posted online Tuesday, a reader told me his mother, who has a disabled placard, got the same kind of ticket as Simovici more than a year ago. She ignored it and has not heard another word about it.
I called Pilgrim Parking a couple of times, but never heard back.
A Fallon rep I reached didn’t reply when I asked for the legal basis for issuing tickets. Still, my calls evidently prompted some reconsideration because the rep did say Simovici will get a refund of his $43.50 "with apologies.”
But no word about the countless others who found themselves in the same situation and paid the "ticket.”