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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Know Spokane: Some view paying cheap parking tickets as the cost of doing business

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 23, 2017

By Rachel Alexander and Jun-Kai Teoh The Spokesman-Review

Parking illegally isn’t supposed to pay off.

But thanks to Spokane’s relatively low-priced parking tickets, it can be a cheaper option than using a downtown garage. Getting a parking violation twice a week at a downtown meter would cost a driver $120 a month, less than the cost of a monthly space at either of two major parking garages downtown.

Seattle charges drivers $43 if they don’t pay for a meter or overstay their time. In Tacoma, it’s $25. Boise is $18.

Breaking the law is a bargain in Spokane, at just $15. A monthly spot at the Parkade is $130. If you want to be a bit closer to City Hall or the library, River Park Square charges $150 per month.

Perhaps that’s why Spokane is home to a handful of people who seem unconcerned about getting regular tickets. Four drivers have racked up more than 100 tickets in a just-under-three-year period, from 2014 to the end of October 2016. Nearly all of those were for downtown meter violations.

Even more strange: The biggest offenders aren’t letting tickets pile up. They’re actually paying them off, week after week.

Parking enforcement officer Josh Weigelt said that doesn’t surprise him. He gets to know the regulars who park downtown, or at least their cars. One belongs to an architect who usually street parks and tries to move his car every two hours. Sometimes, his meetings with clients go over and he’ll get a ticket, though Weigelt said he’s always friendly and always pays them off.

“It’s probably more cost-effective because he’s going around town a lot,” Weigelt said.

He suspects other employees of downtown businesses regularly street park, especially if they work in retail or food service jobs where their employers haven’t set aside parking for them. They might let the meter run out because they’re serving a customer and can’t get outside.

“It’s a little bit of a gamble,” Weigelt said.

Meter feeding is against city law, too. Businesses want spots to turn over so they’re available for customers. Violators who stay at a two-hour meter longer than two hours can get a ticket, even if they’ve paid for the time.

There are cheaper monthly parking options than downtown garages. Andrew Rolwes, who manages public policy and parking for the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said surface parking lots downtown are often less than $100. Most have spots available.

He doubted people would strategically get regular tickets, since the experience can be “anxiety producing.” But for whatever reason, some residents seem to have found a way to make it work.

During the 34 months of citations we looked at, parking enforcement officers wrote more than 180,000 tickets to at least 97,962 unique cars, court records show. Most cars on the list have just one ticket. Only about 1,350 have 10 or more.

The biggest offender, with 171 tickets, averaged more than one a week.

Spokane has a boot-and-tow program, but that’s reserved for people who have four or more tickets sent to collections for nonpayment. But none of the four biggest ticket recipients is on the list.

People who happily pay their fines aren’t tracked by the city, no matter how many yellow envelopes they rack up.

“I don’t know that we give anybody any special attention based on the number of tickets they get,” city spokesman Brian Coddington said.

The cheapest option, aside from walking, biking or taking the bus, would simply be paying for a spot at one of the city’s 12-hour, all-day meters, where parking runs just 40 cents an hour. But those meters can be hard to come by.

The city converted the block of South Madison Street between First and Second avenues to two-hour parking last summer. Now, the closest 12-hour spots to downtown are along the edges of the paid parking zone: stretches of West Riverside Avenue closer to Browne’s Addition and meters near the Spokane Arena.

Even if the biggest ticket-getters are paying their fines, plenty of drivers on the “scofflaw list” have an impressive number of violations. The biggest offender has 109 outstanding tickets and owes more than $9,400, city records show.

More than 2,200 people are on the scofflaw list, with more than $2.1 million in outstanding fines.

That’s more money than most of us will ever have, but it’s actually less than the $3.8 million total in 2013, when the city’s boot-and-tow program was re-established after a 26-year hiatus.

Since 2009, the city has collected about three-quarters of parking fines each year, bringing in between $1 million and $1.4 million per year. The only outlier is 2013, when only 60 percent of tickets were paid and revenue was about $880,000.

Check out data tidbits, maps and more at know-spokane.

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