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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane to consider parking changes, including return of the ‘boot’

The city of Spokane is mulling a parking enforcement plan to boot and tow repeat offenders of overtime parking at downtown meters. (Jesse Tinsley)

City officials are pondering a get-tough approach to downtown Spokane parking scofflaws: the return of the “boot.”

More than 25 years have passed since Spokane quit using the immobilizing wheel boots on the cars of those who haven’t paid their parking tickets.

Now the City Council will be asked next week to give parking authorities the power to trap cars as part of a plan to rein in a growing problem.

“We have people who have more than 200 tickets, and they’re still parking on the streets,” city spokeswoman Julie Happy said.

About 85,000 unpaid parking tickets are on the city’s books, or $4 million in fines.

Of those, about 3,500 belong to drivers who have at least four outstanding citations.

City Planner Dave Steele told the council he expects compilation of the scofflaw list and booting to begin sometime in mid-2014, granting parkers time to pay their overdue tickets before enforcement kicks in.

If approved by the council, cars may be immobilized if the owner has more than four unpaid parking tickets. If there are more than eight unpaid parking tickets, the car may be towed and impounded.

It’s all part of a parking meter overhaul occurring across downtown.

City crews want to add meters to more streets near the downtown core.

Other measures include more restrictive options: Drivers would no longer have one-hour or 90-minute parking choices.

Instead, the only choices would be 30-minute parking or two-hour parking. There will be more ways to purchase those minutes, however.

The plan also would eliminate four popular meter holidays: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day.

Bringing back the parking boot returns a potent deterrent to parking violators.

From late 1980 to 1987, the city used the boot 2,850 times. During that time, the number of tickets fell as city crews prowled the streets looking for egregious parking offenders. It quit using them as legal and political pressure against the devices mounted. Officials – from the late former Mayor Vicki McNeill to Joel Ferris Jr., the executive director of the Spokane Central Business Association – came out against the boots. City officials mothballed all 30 of its 17-pound boots.

The pending changes coming more than two decades later amount to what Happy called a “cleaning up” of city parking laws.

The time limit changes are in response to driver feedback, she said.

“Most people appreciate that two-hour limit,” Happy said, adding that the time limit was the city’s most popular choice.

The new standards were designed with “usability, not profitability” in mind, she said. New four-hour meters will be installed at certain locations, for the discounted rate of 80 cents an hour compared to $1.20 per hour at the shorter-limit meters.

Quarters, dimes and nickels won’t be the only way parkers can plug meters under the new laws. The changes legalize credit-card payments, already rolled out at some downtown meters this summer, as well as payment by Canadian coins and even a smartphone application. Tech-savvy users would be the only parkers who may legally add time beyond a meter’s posted limit, having the option to pay for an additional 15 minutes via phone alert so they can return to the space and move their vehicle.

The council could vote on the changes as early as Dec. 9, with enforcement beginning around the first of the year.