Facing the possibility of tens of thousands of drivers lining up over two days to pay overdue parking tickets, the city has turned to a money-order company to help collect some of the $113 million it is owed.
Nearly 200,000 people have amassed a total of 358,393 citations, all of which have been hit with extra fines because they weren't paid on time. But the city is offering to let drivers off the hook for just a fraction of the total through a parking-ticket amnesty program Oct. 9 and 10.
The program will allow drivers to pay old tickets without late fees, reducing the maximum the city could collect to $14.6 million.
City officials say they have no idea how many ticket holders will take advantage of the program, but they expect it to be more than one location can handle. So under an agreement approved yesterday by the city's Board of Estimates, people will be able to pay at dozens of Global Express Money Order locations around the city.
They also can settle up at the Abel Wolman Municipal Building, 200 N. Holliday St., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
"With 200,000 people coming, we recognize there's a serious public safety and customer service issue," said Stanley J. Milesky, chief of the city's Bureau of Treasury Management. "We just felt it was necessary to provide alternate payment locations."
The city will not pay Global Express anything under the deal, but the company will charge drivers $1 per ticket.
The City Council passed the parking amnesty bill last month to give drivers a break as the city imposed steeper fines effective Sept. 1. Mayor Martin O'Malley opposed the idea of forgiving late fees but said he would not veto the bill if the council approved it.
Critics of the program said the city was forfeiting too much money. And although state motor vehicle offices will not renew vehicle tags if there are outstanding parking tickets, supporters said the city was not likely to collect on the debts at all without the incentive of amnesty.
Baltimore is one of the few cities to impose a system of endlessly escalating penalties for late parking tickets. Fees grow monthly, so an unpaid $18 parking ticket can quickly grow to hundreds of dollars.
"We hope people will take advantage of this one-time deal, clear their records and hopefully never let it happen again," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
The amnesty will wipe away late penalties, but drivers still will be responsible for towing costs and impound fees.
The city will mail a list of the locations next week along with a bill to everyone with overdue tickets, he said.