Citation without information is annoying

December 18, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- Lack of information about parking fines and violations.

THE BACKSTORY -- Alexander D. Mitchell IV doesn't dispute that he parked on Lancaster Street in Fells Point a few minutes longer than the two hours allowed. What he wants to know is whether the parking officer cited him for the correct offense.

But trying to research his case to determine whether it's worth challenging, Mitchell ran into a roadblock: He couldn't find a complete list of parking violations and corresponding fines.

He got hit with a $42 ticket for parking on a street designated "Residential permit parking only." That limits nonpermit holders to two hours. Mitchell believes he could have been cited for a different, and possibly cheaper, infraction.

"I attempted to find out exactly what the fines were for various parking offenses in Baltimore, with an online search," Mitchell wrote in an e-mail.

"Apparently, it's not possible to do so," he continued. "Go ahead, just try to find out what your fine should be for a particular offense. ... Does this not qualify as public information? Should I not be able to ascertain whether the agent assessed the correct fine before paying it?"

Watchdog won't weigh in on the merits of Mitchell's case - that's between him and a hearing officer or judge - but we do agree that he can't make a convincing case without what seems to be basic information.

The Department of Transportation's Web site has a handy service for people to search for their tickets by citation or license plate number. But type "parking fines" in the search area and you get a detailed Q&A on red-light cameras.

Nowhere is there a complete list of all possible violations. Watchdog clicked on one promising link - "What about parking?" - but got only this: "The page you are trying to view cannot be located on this server."

Turns out Mitchell is a victim of new technology. Parking agents used to hand-write tickets, and had to check off a box on the back to indicate the violation and fine. That offered offending motorists a glance at all the possible violations and fines. But agents now use a hand-held computer, and all that is printed is the particular violation and fine assessed.

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said brochures listing violations are available at city offices and are distributed to community associations. But Barnes said she would work to get the information on the agency's Web site.

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Parking tickets are the responsibility of the Transportation Department's safety division, and there is a vacancy at the top post. Residents with questions can call 410-396-4080 or the city's 311 nonemergency line.

UPDATE

The dirty park bench that Watchdog highlighted last week has been repaired and moved.

A reader had sent in a photograph of the bench at Patapsco Avenue and Annapolis Road, showing it covered with bird droppings and surrounded by litter.

City Department of Transportation workers replaced the slats on the bench and moved it off private property and to a public sidewalk. After a week, it appears the bench is still in good shape.

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