The city of Boston issued over a million parking tickets to unlucky drivers last year. The most common offenses? Unpaid meters came in first place, followed by street cleaning. Parking in loading zones came in third.
Dear readers, we don’t want this to happen to you. So we spoke with Gina Fiandaca, commissioner of Boston’s transportation department, and Stephen Maguire, the parking clerk for the city, to seek advice on the best way to appeal a ticket and avoid being charged for parking your ride in the wrong place at the wrong time.
1. How best to contest?
These are several ways you can fight a parking ticket. You can call the parking clerk’s office at 617-635-4410, go down to City Hall in person (head to Room 224, the office of the parking clerk), submit your dispute via snail mail, or do it online at www.cityofboston.gov/parking.
Once you do that, a customer service representative (a.k.a. claim investigator) will process your appeal. If city records show that the ticket should NOT have been issued, your ticket will be dismissed. Or you could receive a letter from the city requesting additional information. You also may be asked to come in for a hearing.
2. What makes a good appeal?
City officials want to see “some sort of evidence that was not readily available when the ticket was written,” said Fiandaca. It could be a photo, a witness statement, or some kind of other documentation. Say, for example, you tell the city that your car was broken down when you received a ticket. You send in a photo of your car with its hood up. The city may follow up with you and ask for a receipt from a towing company or repair shop as proof, she said.
3. The odds are good.
If you get called in for a hearing, your odds for a dismissal are in your favor. Out of the 9,464 in-person hearings held in fiscal 2015, close to 86 percent were dismissed. “A lot of those tickets are dismissed and they were validly issued,” said Fiandaca. Even if you don’t get to a hearing, you still might beat the ticket. Out of 250,367 tickets that were contested last fiscal year, 71,024 were dismissed, according to city records.
4. Plead your case.
If you live outside of Massachusetts, you can request your hearing to be held via Skype. Otherwise, you’ll have to show up in person and explain yourself to a hearing officer. Those hearing officers are law students from Suffolk University and New England School of Law, and they’ve heard almost every excuse you can imagine. What’s the strangest explanation they’ve heard? According to Maguire, one person recently came in and claimed to have been abducted by aliens. (Now, of course, you’re wondering, did that person get out of the ticket? When we asked Maguire, he laughed and said he wasn’t sure.)
5. An ounce of prevention. . .
Smart meters have been installed all over the city, so you don’t have to worry about scrounging for quarters under your car seats anymore — you can now pay with a credit card. You can also use your smartphone. Just sign up for the city’s parking app (park.boston.gov/). The ParkBoston app will send you a notification when your meter is running out and let you extend the time, so you can avoid having to run outside and feed that ever-hungry meter. You can also sign up for street cleaning tow alerts through the city’s website. And if all else fails, the city now offers a new way to pay your parking ticket through an app called PayTix, which lets you use your smartphone to pay your tickets. It also allows you to look up unpaid tickets and avoid late fees by receiving reminders of when they’re due.
Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com