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.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

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.