by John J. Cox
A resident of Woodside
Few things in life are more aggravating than dealing with a parking ticket. The whole process-- from finding a place to park in the first place, to finding a ticket on your windshield (if you're lucky enough not to have had your car towed), to standing in line at an adjudication center, to facing a judge who has no real desire to listen to your side of the story, to paying the fine--can tax the patience of the most saintly person.
I don't know of a single person who owns a car in this City who cannot provide a horror story. I've got plenty of my own, like the time I double-parked in front of my building to remove groceries in a driving rain storm. By the time I handed off the grocery bags to my wife who was waiting a few feet away at the lobby door, a parking enforcement car pulled up and a young officer got out and wrote a ticket, even as I screamed and ran back through the pouring rain. Too late. But like most New Yorkers I've learned through experience two things: First, when it is the end of the month, as it was in this instance, there is no mercy. The monthly quotas the City says do not exist must be met anyway. And second, it is far easier, and healthier, to forgo the adjudication process and simply pay the fine.
This system works very well for the City, if not for its citizens. The City issues about 10 million tickets a year, and only about 20 percent of those ticketed have the strength and fortitude to challenge them. The rest figure, accurately, that the deck is already stacked against them and that it would be a waste of time (and money if they work for a living) to spend a day waiting to see a judge who will not believe them anyway. These more practical people realize that the constitutional rights of due process and confrontation do not in fact apply at the Parking Violations Bureau. They know that the Bureau has long adopted the judicial philosophy once espoused by Marxist Leon Trotsky that "only the guilty will be tried."
But in a City of endless innovation when it comes to more efficiently parting its residents from their cash, the Parking Violations Bureau has initiated a new program. If you are one of those hardy souls who appears at the Bureau to challenge a ticket you must first wait on a line to see a clerk. Before seeing a judge the clerk will inform you that the judge has no power to reduce a fine, that if the judge determines you are guilty no amount of begging and sobbing will result in a reduction of what you will be forced to pay. But, if you wish, you can get a substantially reduced fine simply by coming to terms with the clerk.
According to a recent story in the New York Times this program was started three years ago and has been successful. It has reduced the number of judges needed to adjudicate cases. And a person who obtains a reduced fine from the clerk waits no more than an hour, as opposed to waiting perhaps a whole day to see a judge with no authority to lower a fine. But there is one oddity about this program: the City does not publicize it. The Times reported that few people are aware of its existence, that the City never issued a press release about it, and that it is not even mentioned in the City's official guide to parking ticket hearings. It seems that it is only those brave and stout few willing to endure the bureaucratic morass who have benefited from the program. It gives new meaning to Woody Allen's observation that 90 percent of success is just showing up.