Meet the most-ticketed drivers in Boston, paying $1,000s in fines annually
It can ruin an otherwise perfectly good day: You walk back to your car to find a bright orange parking ticket waiting on the windshield.
But for some drivers, finding the neon notes is as routine as buying a cup of coffee, albeit an expensive one.
Kim Daniels, a longtime Back Bay resident, has paid 513 tickets totaling more than $15,000 over the past five years, mostly for parking near her apartment.
But Daniels estimated it would cost even more to rent a monthly parking space for her 2008 Volvo in the upscale neighborhood, where residents far outnumber resident parking spaces. The Prudential Center, for instance, charges $470 a month for unrestricted parking — and that is several blocks away from her home.
“It’s about 40 percent cheaper to pay for the tickets,” Daniels says. “And I can park right in front of my building instead of in the Pru or down a dark alley.”
Daniels’s car is one of nearly 100 vehicles that received more than 500 Boston parking tickets over the last five years, a Globe review of the city’s parking ticket data shows. That works out to at least a couple of tickets a week, more than many people receive in a year.
Indeed, 1 percent of vehicles accounted for 20 percent of the 6.8 million citations issued over the past five fiscal years, showing a small percentage of drivers seem undeterred by the fines, which range from $25 for a meter violation to as much as $120 for illegally parking in a handicapped spot.
Many of the ticket leaders were delivery vehicles — 83 of the top 100 had commercial plates — which are constantly double-parking to unload on Boston’s famously crowded streets.
United Parcel Service of America Inc. and dozens of other companies — including Federal Express, Staples, Comcast, and Coca-Cola Bottling — are ticketed so routinely that they have come to an agreement with the city of Boston in which they promise to pay all violations in return for not getting booted or towed.
For instance, a truck owned by office supply company W.B. Mason received nearly 1,200 tickets in the last five years, mostly for double-parking, which costs $30 to $45 per ticket.
“There’s not enough parking, especially commercial parking,” said one worker, who wouldn’t give his name, as he unloaded boxes from another W.B. Mason vehicle moments after it received a parking ticket in the financial district one morning last month. Company executives didn’t return calls.
UPS owns more than half of the 50 most frequently ticketed vehicles in Boston, including two that received more than 1,500 tickets over five years — about six tickets a week. The delivery giant has spent well over $1 million in parking fines in the last several years.
But UPS said it has no choice. Drivers frequently have to double-park or squeeze their vehicles into creative spots to make deliveries, because there aren’t enough legal commercial loading zones.
“It is a cost of doing business,” Dan Cardillo, a spokesman for the delivery company, said. “It’s part of what UPS does to move commerce in this country.”
Some individual drivers have decided it’s simply the price of living or working in certain parts of Boston. For them, the cost of a few tickets a week is preferable to paying $40 a day for a space in a garage.
Steven Zevitas, a Boston art gallery owner, paid 575 tickets over five years, totaling around $15,000, city records show.
Zevitas said he has had trouble finding a scarce resident space near his Back Bay condo, so he frequently leaves his black Audi at a meter instead. But Zevitas doesn’t always pay the meter — either because he doesn’t have quarters handy when he parks at the end of the day or doesn’t bother to run out to feed the meter.
But Zevitas justified the cost of the fines by not having to lease a pricey off-street parking spot.
“It’s a financial wash,” notes Zevitas. “It’s either $3,600 a year for a parking space, or a couple of thousand in tickets. I have chosen the tickets.”
Still, some transportation researchers said the fact that so many drivers have racked up so many tickets could be a sign of broader problems with the city’s management of public parking spaces, such as not charging enough for spots in prime neighborhoods or not setting aside enough legal spaces for delivery vehicles.
For instance, Boston charges just $1.25 per hour for parking at a meter — even downtown — less than many other major cities and a fraction of the cost of parking in a garage. For instance, one downtown garages charges $27 for the first hour and $41 for the day.
And even when people are caught failing to pay a meter or staying past the usual two-hour limit, the fine is just $25, too low to deter some from leaving their cars parked all day on the street when garages are so expensive, critics say.
“I think Boston’s parking prices are quite backward,” said Donald Shoup, a University of California Los Angeles economist who wrote the book,“The High Cost of Free Parking.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said last month the city might experiment with increasing the cost of parking meters at peak times and areas, following a model that San Francisco uses, to discourage drivers for driving around endlessly looking for a space and ease traffic congestion.
Rates for off-street parking in San Francisco range from 25 cents to $7 an hour, depending on demand at different times of day and locations, but Walsh said Boston hasn’t settled on any rates yet.
“The bottom line is: $1.25 an hour isn’t working in our busiest areas,” he told business executives last month.
Shoup, the UCLA professor, said Boston could also ratchet up the penalties for drivers who repeatedly violate the rules, such as failing to feed the meter or parking there all day, without hurting people who occasionally make a mistake.
For instance, Plymouth, Mich., gives drivers a warning the first time they stay too long at a space. But it charges $25 for the second offense, $50 for the third offense, $75 for every ticket after that.
Walsh also said the city will crack down on double-parking to prevent vehicles from backing up traffic. But transportation officials also said they are trying to work with commercial companies to explain the parking rules and add loading zones where needed.
And some of the cars violating the rules are owned by the city.
A gray Ford that received more than 750 tickets over the last five years turned out to be an undercover police vehicle.
Boston police Lieutenant Michael McCarthy said parking is limited near the Family Justice Center on Commonwealth Avenue, where detectives using the Ford often take young victims or their family members.
However, because the car is a police vehicle, all its tickets are ultimately dismissed.
But some of the most frequently ticketed personal cars appear to be owned by commuters trying to avoid the high cost of garages downtown.
The personal car that received the most tickets in the last five years, a black Honda Accord, is owned by a Malden woman who often leaves her car at meters in the Financial District all day long.
The Honda has racked up 727 tickets, or nearly three a week, mostly for parking at an expired meter or staying past the two-hour limit near Post Office Square.
The tickets alone cost nearly $19,000, not counting the thousands of dollars more in quarters the owner probably poured into meters over the past five years.
Still, that might seem cheap compared with the cost of leasing a parking space in the area over the same period: roughly $30,000.