If there's something city dwellers almost universally hate, it's parking tickets.
Native New Yorker Glen Bolofsky is well aware of this. For more than 20 years, his business has offered services to individuals and businesses that help them avoid or contest parking tickets -- tickets he says are usually excessive, and therefore, unconstitutional.
In his opinion, parking tickets have become simply a means of generating revenue for municipal coffers.
"The problem is that government is there to help people, not profit from people," Bolofsky said. "Too often, revenue is the focus of parking tickets. They really aren't used as they should be, to create an environment of safety for drivers and pedestrians."
Bolofsky used to publish a New York calendar informing citizens of which days parking regulations were not in force. Eventually the city began publishing the same information and distributing it for free.
In 1993, he launched Alarm System, a software program designed to give companies who regularly receive a large volume of parking tickets the ability to fight those tickets.
"The program included all the rules, regulations, laws and what we call 'unwritten history' of the parking bureaus -- the tips and tricks we learned and that a retired parking violations judge had to offer," explained Bolofsky. "Basically it's a ticket-killing machine. Based on the information entered, the program prints out a customized dismissal request letter for each ticket. It's like a mini legal brief."
The application was not designed for the average individual. After Alarm System is installed on a client's computer system, employees are trained to enter information from city reports or from the parking ticket, and then to monitor and edit the printout. The whole package is usually licensed for thousands of dollars per year.
"We have clients paying us up to $30,000 a year to use the program," said Bolofsky. "It's nothing like a $39 or $89 divorce kit you would buy at Staples or Office Depot."
Bolofsky also offers a service where companies simply give his company their parking tickets, and his staff, using automated software, succeeds in getting a large number of them reduced or successfully canceled.
In 2001, Bolofsky developed extensive front and back ends to the program that allowed him to put it online for individuals, eventually launching parkingticket.com.
"Most people don't even know they can contest or appeal parking tickets," Bolofsky said. "Part of our job is to educate them on what they can do if they feel they have received a ticket unfairly."
The process involves far more than simply a few clicks. It usually takes a person a minimum of 10 or 15 minutes to enter data for each ticket, according to Bolofsky, because a person not only enters all the details of the ticket and vehicle registration, he or she also answers approximately 100 additional questions.
"We take about 100 different slices of the parking ticket to determine if there is any missing information, any incorrect information, or if the rules or regulations allow for dismissal based upon the circumstances," Bolofsky explained.
After the system automatically generates a customized dismissal request letter, the person still has to mail it in with any needed documentation. The Web service charges half the cost of the ticket's fine, and the company offers a money-back guarantee. If a ticket is not reduced or dismissed, the service is free. According to the company's promotional literature, the service has a 75 percent success rate.
The Web site already serves New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Bolofsky said he plans to expand the service to Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and eventually Europe and Asia.
It takes considerable work to extend the service to a new city, in part because that municipality's different parking laws and regulations must be added into the program.
"That's where the knowledge base and the structure of our program helps," he said. "We've developed the system so we can build out the model fairly easily. But it does still take research, know how and some persistence to get each and every city up and running."
Despite limited publicity and only operating in three cities so far, the site already handles 100,000 tickets per year, according to Bolofsky, adding that he expects the number to go up significantly since the company recently launched billboard advertising. In addition, his company is organizing promotional events such as the Parking Ticket Challenge to be held in the heart of New York's Times Square -- an event the company hopes to hold annually. For a day, the parking-ticket-afflicted can use parkingticket.com for free at one of the world's largest Internet cafes.
A Convenience Service
Bolofsky acknowledges his real goal is to reform the parking ticket system so cities do not use tickets to generate revenue and charge what he calls excessive rates.
"We are at their throats because we see a regular pattern of highly improper activity by cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco," said Bolofsky. "Before January 1 of each new year, they already know how many tickets they are going to write, and this is calculated into budgets."
Janis Hazel, public information officer for Washington, D.C.'s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), said companies such as parkingticket.com are simply convenience services for citizens and have no impact on the city's revenue source or budget.
"Citizens currently have the ability to contest tickets themselves conveniently by mail with our mail-in adjudication form available at the Web site
or by appearing at a walk-in hearing within 60 days of the ticket issue date," she explained. "If the ticket is more than 60 days old, they may submit a Motion to Vacate Default Judgment to determine whether they may still contest the ticket.
"Since I've been here in the district, I personally have successfully contested all the parking tickets I have received simply using the city's existing services," she said. "What parkingticket.com does, citizens can also do for themselves."
The DMV plans to launch its own online ticket-adjudication service that will allow people to contest a parking ticket either via e-mail or by live chat with a hearing examiner. People will also be able to upload pictures and other evidence for the hearing officer to look at, essentially doing for free via the city's Web site what parkingticket.com does for a fee.
Bolofsky said his company is adapting its software by "reversing its logic" so it can be used by municipalities to automate the parking-ticket-adjudication process. He said he hopes to have his online adjudication software available for cities in the first quarter of 2005.
"That would speed the processing of the hearing," said Bolofsky. "It would not require anyone coming to court, and it would not require the expense of courts, officers, personnel, labor, etc., to deal with what we would call minor infractions. From our point of view, it will be a fairer system because it will be taking the departments that collect the revenue out of the process of adjudication."