D.C. considers nixing late fees for parking violations
New policy would only apply to District residents
Drivers who live in the District could feel a little less pressure to pay their parking tickets as the D.C. Council considers a measure that would end late fees for such citations.
The legislation aims to give lowincome residents more time to pay their tickets without having their fines double after a month.
“The current penalties in place only serve to further burden those who lack economic means,” said council member Trayon White, the Ward 8 Democrat who introduced the bill.
The Traffic and Parking Ticket Penalty Amendment Act of 2017 would eliminate late fees for parking and traffic citations for D.C. residents only. Drivers who live outside the city would still see their unpaid fines double after 30 days.
Red-light camera tickets cost $150 per violation and speed camera tickets $300 each. Failure to pay a ticket within 30 days is deemed an “admission of liability” in the District.
“For years, residents of my community have been dissatisfied with the ticketing practices of our local government,” said Mr. White. “This issue is always one of the top three concerns that I hear from my constituents as I move around Ward 8.”
Mr. White’s Facebook post about the legislation garnered more than 7,800 views and 350 shares within hours.
And it appears that concern stretches across the city: Democratic council members Jack Evans (Ward 2), Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Charles Allen (Ward 6), Anita Bonds (at-large) and Robert White (at-large),
and David Grosso (at-large independent) signed on to support the measure.
City Administrator Rashad Young declined to say whether he supports the bill or how it would affect the city’s budget.
“The [chief financial officer] will tell us when he does his [analysis],” Mr. Young said. “Then we can respond to what the cost impact would be based on that analysis.”
The city issued nearly $300 million worth of traffic and parking tickets last year. About 41 percent of those tickets went unpaid. It’s unclear how much revenue the District would lose from dropping late fees for city residents, but the fact that Mr. Evans, who chairs the Finance and Revenue Committee, has backed the measure suggests the city
might be able to take the economic hit.
The current practice of hefty fines after 30 days creates a “Catch-22” for D.C. motorists who can’t afford to pay tickets on time, says John Townsend, spokesman for the automobile club AAA Mid-Atlantic.
“The due date is short. Depending upon when the notice of infraction is mailed, some ticketed motorists could have less than a week to come up with the money to pay the ticket, or even get a check to the city on time,” Mr. Townsend said, calling the District’s fines draconian.
“The doubling of traffic fines after a 30-day deadline does not improve traffic safety or engender compliance with traffic laws one whit,” he said. “A
wealth of research shows that draconian traffic fines and fees act as a hidden tax on poor people.”
Missing the deadline to pay a ticket can prompt the suspension of driver’s licenses and calls from debt collectors, which can greatly affect other parts of a person’s life, Mr. Townsend said.
But city drivers wouldn’t be off the hook under the legislation: Unpaid tickets are reported to credit bureaus, and can be deducted from income tax refunds. And a driver’s license cannot be renewed unless all fines are paid in full.
The District wouldn’t be the first jurisdiction in the area to eliminate late fees on parking and traffic citations. Montgomery County no longer charges a $25 late fee for its $40 speed-camera tickets and $75 red-light camera tickets.
Meanwhile, Baltimore County charges a late fee of $10 per month for any violation not paid within 15 days of issuance.
Late fees abound in cities across the country. In Los Angeles, parking tickets in the city average about $68 and fines double after 21 days. New Orleans tacks a $100 fine onto unpaid tickets.
In Miami, a late fee is added to a ticket’s cost if the fine is not paid within 30 days, but a specific dollar amount is not specified. And in Chicago, a late fee “that can be equal to the original fine amount” may be assessed if payment is not received by the “pay by” date on the ticket.