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The Startling Truth About DC Parking Tickets

How much money they rake in for the city, the highest-ticketed areas, and more facts about those dreaded pink slips.

Photograph by Flickr user thetejon.

If you park on DC streets, does it sometimes feel like the city slaps a ticket on some poor soul’s windshield every minute? Well, the truth is even more extreme. On average, 2.9 tickets are issued every minute, with more than 29,000 issued each week. Parking tickets rang up $11 million in revenue for the city in 2011, more than in much larger cities such as Atlanta and Baltimore. Two parking enforcement beats, both in Ward 2, each produced more than $1 million in tickets. A Ward 6 beat was also in the million-dollar club.

These and other startling parking enforcement facts were made available to The Washingtonian by the Department of Public Works after we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. The details appear in a graphic in the March issue of the magazine. Our interest was piqued in December when AAA Mid-Atlantic put out a press release stating that in the fiscal year that ended October 2011, the District’s “trigger-happy enforcers” exceeded the number of 2010 tickets by close to 100,000. We wanted to know the truth about parking tickets: where the most are issued, the busiest times of the day, week, and year, and how much money is made.

Way out in front with the most tickets is Ward 2, at 584,005 in 2011. Within that ward, the most productive beats are in Georgetown to the west of Wisconsin Avenue, just up from M, and bordering the Georgetown University campus. Coming in second is Ward 6 with 245,576 tickets, especially around Lincoln Park and the Congressional Cemetery. Third place goes to Ward 1, including Adams Morgan and the 14th Street corridor, with 180,160.

Under the DC codes, there are more than 79 reasons you can get a parking ticket, starting at $20 “for parking more than 12 inches from the curb.” At $500, the most expensive offenses are “excessive idling” and “unauthorized parking in handicapped space.” There are two categories that score a $250 ticket: “parking on private property without owner’s consent” and “obstructing a snow-emergency route during prohibited period.” Most tickets are $25, $50, and $100.

Of course, you can fight a ticket. The urban legend is that nobody does because it’s such a hassle. Currently almost 37,000 parking tickets are being contested. I’ve done it twice by mail and won. Another urban legend is that parking enforcement officers are zealots because they get a piece of the action. In truth, they are salaried; the pay scale runs from $33,875 to $53,048. The enforcement officers who issued the most tickets in 2011, according to DPW figures, all worked beats in Ward 2. They were (first names were not made available) D. Dunn, A. Obiama, G. Jones, and A. Thomas.

The peaks tend to come at the beginning rather than the end of the month, which may have to do with getting money into government coffers early in the payables cycle. The lowest net day in the past fiscal year was Monday, October 11, 2010—Columbus Day weekend. The highest net day was Friday, November 5, 2010. And when does the city “soak the tourists?” That’s easy. Almost 68,000 tickets were issued between March 27 and April 10, 2011, during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

If you think you see a lot of tickets stuck under the wipers of delivery trucks, you’re right: They rack ’em up. In 2011, UPS scored 31,993 tickets to FedEx’s 8,473. Does FedEx have some sort of no-tickets incentive program? A FedEx spokesperson says simply, “We do all we can to adhere to parking regulations.” Drivers with diplomatic plates are also among the highest offenders; the countries with the most parking tickets in DC are France (247), Yemen (197), Mexico (160), and Brazil (127).

If it’s any comfort, 382 tickets were issued to cars identified as MPD, or Metropolitan Police Department. I don’t know whether those tickets are among the thousands being contested, but if they are, it’d be interesting to know whether the arguments sound anything like yours or mine.

Additional research by Marshall Worsham.

  • AJ

    Thanks, Obiama.

  • Tony Manero

    The biggest one was D. Chenie; he falsified 200,000 tickets but wasn't charged with war crimes.

  • Jackson Tho

    Where did you get $11 million? The District of Columbia collected $92.6 million in revenue from parking tickets in fiscal 2011, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
    And NYC collects a lot more, some $556 million in fiscal 2015, with another $24.5 million in towing fees, and $59 million in speed/red light camera fines. On top of that, the Big Apple pulled in $207 million from parking meter revenue.

  • FrustratedCitizen6

    I moved to DC Ward 5 relatively recently. I would like to know why we cannot even bribe parking enforcement to come to our neighborhoods consistently? I have been told repeatedly by representatives from 311 that parking enforcement only comes when a resident calls for enforcement. Violators are aware of this and realize that obviously no one cares so it encourages them to park anywhere, block streets, block alleys and pay no attention to parking permit restrictions. When I previously lived in Adams Morgan and Cleveland Park, parking enforcement were a constant presence that did not require you to call, wait several hours or days for them to come so that they can note the time and NOT come back 2 hours later to enforce residential parking permit limits. It is very interesting how services are applied very differently depending on your area of the city.

  • bikan0e

    This is not hard. Never, ever park on the street in DC. Consider it illegal, because it actually is. I would almost say it's illegal to drive in DC, except that if you use garages, you'll be just fine (minus $15-30 for a few hours parking).

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