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One Thing Worse than Getting a Parking Ticket

SFMTA HQ

Photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr

Dear Parking Guru,

I was issued a parking ticket in error, but I don't have any supporting evidence. I live on a metered street, on Taraval. I pulled up in front of my house one evening at 5:50 pm, right past a parking officer ticketing the car two cars behind me for an expired meter, and thought "man, that sucks." I even commented to my boyfriend that I'd seen people getting tickets at 5:59 pm, and we laughed at how desperate the SFMTA is for money. Anyway, the meter was expired for my spot, so I was VERY careful to plug the meter with change enough to stretch it to 6:01 pm.
 
The mail showed up today and I got a notice for a delinquent parking violation for that meter at 5:52 pm that same day. It must have been right after I went inside. Is it possible that the meter reader was going to ticket the previous car parked in that spot and she didn't notice that A) a new car had shown up, and B) the meter was now plugged? More importantly, do I have any way to fight this, or should I just suck it up and pay the $62? This is clearly an error on their part, but I have no substantiating evidence beyond "I'm not a dumbass, of course I plugged the meter," to back myself up.
 
Thank you! I found your column on 7x7 last week and have read literally every article.
 
Thank you,
Wrongfully Accused
 
 
Dear Wrongfully Accused,
 
One thing worse than getting a parking ticket is getting a parking ticket that you didn’t deserve. I believe your story. SFMTA is told some tall, tall tales of “proof” of innocence, and has a much different screening process than I do, so your story will be scrutinized. I think your theory about what happened is probably right; The enforcement officer was probably at the end of the shift, had focused her attention on literally tens of thousands of cars and meters that day, maybe was still bummed out about the Niners, and simply didn’t bring her A-game to work. She saw a couple of expired meters, tried to squeeze in a few more legit citations before 6 pm, and didn’t notice that your car had replaced the previous violator’s car.  
 
This is how I think it’s going to go. You protest the ticket by mail. In a month or two, you will get a response with a cut and pasted phrase stating something like, “After investigating the events surrounding your citation, our investigative unit has determined that your citation is valid. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $62.” Don’t worry about that. The first step of ticket protesting has a 2% success rate, and is typically only successful with slam-dunk situations.
 
Your next course of action will be to schedule an administrative hearing at the SFMTA office. Protesting in person will not be as long and drawn out a process as you think. You simply take a number, and when called, you talk to somebody in an office who has the power to make an interpretive judgment.  Administrative judges are informed, educated people who have read the 2002 Stanford study showing that DPT officers are in fact human and do indeed make mistakes. My experience has been that these administrators are reasonable people with a goal of trying to get it right.
 
It will be a drag to have to go down there at all, because it wasn’t a valid ticket. But it won’t be as big a drag as you think. The wait time at SFMTA, since they moved to 11 South Van Ness, has gotten to be pretty good. And there is a high rate of success in this second round of protesting. According to the agency’s figures from a couple of years ago, 55% of tickets that were appealed a second time ended up getting dismissed. You will be in and out in a timely fashion, and free to spend that $62 elsewhere.
 
When you do go to protest though, if you drive, be sure to bring enough change with you and keep track of the time, as there is nothing worse than going from insult to injury and being ticketed while you’re inside protesting your ticket.

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