By: Ben Shore

It’s fairly likely that you or someone you know has, at some point,
experienced the following situation in San Francisco:

  1. Walk out of the building
  2. Look for car
  3. What’s on windshield?
  4. “Oh,#@%!

Few things can upset an otherwise pleasant San Francisco day like getting a parking ticket, especially when San Francisco parking rates and fines are already among the highest in the nation.

But perhaps the singular event worse than receiving a ticket is receiving one you may not deserve, especially when that injustice is followed by the dreaded process of contesting the parking ticket. Who has the time or endurance to go fight the parking ticket on their lunch hour? And, sure you can mail in your evidence but why bother with the postage? Uploading these documents online is far easier for those fighting their ticket and far easier for The City to determine what actually happened. Plus, no longer would we have to worry that our evidence “got lost in the mail.” There is an easier way.

One-Click Hearings

The only major U.S. city that charges as much for a downtown parking meter violation as San Francisco ($65) is helping to pioneer a new system that – wait for it – makes life just a little easier on its citizens when it comes to disputing parking tickets. Earlier this month, New York City introduced “One-Click Hearings,” a new web based feature that lets New Yorkers submit all evidence regarding a wrongfully issued ticket online. The system allows people to write a written report as well as submit photos proving they received a ticket unfairly.

While it’s possible San Francisco may be averse to implementing a system that makes it easier for people to fight tickets – a major source of revenue – it is nonetheless an example of a good, open government. In addition to easing the burden of receiving and fighting a ticket, New York’s system is freeing up time for judges who review the evidence submitted online during their downtime between courtroom hearings.

San Francisco makes $600 a minute on parking fines and, according to a San Francisco legislative analysts report from 2010, charges the highest total penalties among cities where parking ticket data was available. Plus, San Francisco charges an additional $2.50 per transaction if you want to pay your fine using a credit card by phone or online. It’s an important cash generator for The City but often a regressive tax on San Francisco families. There needs to be a middle ground. Making the process to get out of an unfair ticket simpler and more streamlined seems only fair to San Franciscans, especially when New York’s new system cost just $50,000 to create – pocket change compared to how much money is brought in from parking tickets.

While parking tickets are inconvenient and annoying, issuing them to people who break the law still makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is making it difficult to fight tickets that are issued incorrectly.

When it comes to a city as large as San Francisco, some mistakes are bound to be made when issuing parking tickets. But why double punish people? It’s time for San Francisco to show that our city government wants to work for – and with – its people. Making it easier to contest unfair parking tickets will only give people more confidence that our city government is concerned with improving people’s lives and not just getting their $65 check.