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How Did L.A. Spend $148 Million in Parking Ticket Revenue? Check the Data Portal

The new Street Talk data portal includes information about what Los Angeles collects, from whom and where the money goes.

Los Angeles collected $148 million in gross parking ticket revenues in fiscal 2015 and there’s been a public push to lower the fines, which some see as onerous and arbitrary.
City technologists want to bring data to bear to inform that discussion. In January they unveiled the Street Talk data portal, which is loaded with parking enforcement information, in an effort to demonstrate just what the city collects, from whom and where the money goes.
They say that effort already is bearing fruit. Armed with facts and figures, the IT department is taking an active role in shaping a range of civic policies around parking enforcement. “It’s about bringing truth to the conversation,” said Juan Lopez, director of technology and innovation for the Controller’s Office. “We want people to better understand how parking tickets work and how they are issued, to bring clarity around the policies.”
L.A. isn’t alone in shifting parking ticket data to the fore. New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore have all published variations on the theme, with data sets covering varied lengths of time at greater or lesser depth. IT leaders in Los Angeles say they want to do more than just make the data available; they want to drive practical change.
The first truth to emerge from the data disclosure: Parking tickets don’t generate nearly the kind of revenue people typically imagine. Of the $148 million collected in fiscal 2015, the city hung onto just $41 million, with the rest going to administrative overhead.
This has immediate policy implications. “It means that if we reduce parking fines, we would be losing money,” Lopez said. “If we reduced fines by $10 or $15, we could very well be losing money every time we write a ticket.”
From an IT perspective, the data has generated a range of technology-based ideas that could lower the number of tickets written, reduce overhead by making parking enforcement workers more efficient, and ultimately help to keep busy streets clear of inappropriately parked vehicles.
More than one-quarter of all tickets are written for cars parked at the wrong time in street-sweeping areas. The city’s IT department is working with the sanitation bureau to develop a GPS-based solution that would put location sensors on street sweepers and tie them to the existing 311 app. Citizens would be able to opt in to be notified when the sweepers have come and gone, and could move their cars accordingly.
“It gives you a good timely warning, before the street sweeper comes, and it saves people having to wait around for the entire two-and-half-hour block to go by, if the street sweeper has already gone through,” Lopez said.
To further leverage technology, the city is looking to emulate Sydney, Australia’s deployment of electronic street signs. A solar-powered, tablet-style sign could reduce the volume of parking infractions by helping drivers get a clearer sense of the local ordinances, which can sometimes be difficult to interpret.
“If you park in L.A. you may have four or five signs saying you can park here from 2 to 4 o’clock, but you can’t park from 5 to 7. You may have a sign for special permits for residents," Lopez said. "It’s a very common complaint that these signs can be very hard to decipher. If you had one digital sign, then it could be very clear: Yes, you can park here or no, you cannot."
Ideally such a sign would notify parkers on an opt-in basis if parameters are changing — for instance 15 minutes before a space switches to no-parking rules.
The smart city ecosystem is blossoming with tech solutions to civic parking woes. San Francisco is using wireless sensors to track parking availability. Some companies are promoting parking payment apps. The nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology has worked with ParqEx, a company that connects people with underutilized parking spots.
Frost and Sullivan predicts the market for smart parking technology will reach $43 billion by 2025. “The emergence of new business models such as peer-to-peer parking, smart parking with minimum hardware, parking analytics, demand-based pricing and real-time parking sessions will help popularize parking solutions in new territories,” said Frost and Sullivan Automotive and Transportation Industry Analyst Neelam Barua in a press release.
“Real-time smart parking and navigable parking lots will proliferate into the European and North American markets and become future trends in parking, along with autonomous parking services for cars,” Barua said. “Numerous smart multi-space and wireless parking meters will deliver real-time parking information with the help of sensors to motorists and parking operators, simplifying parking operations and business.”
In L.A., planners say they want these changes to be driven not by trendy technology but by verifiable data. They say this will help ensure public buy-in, and they point to some of their early data disclosures as evidence that solid information can shape public perception around parking.
There’s a popular notion, for instance, that parking enforcement officials spend most of their time directing traffic — but that’s not the case and the city can prove it.
Xerox provides the handheld devices city workers use to write tickets. The data team partnered with the tech provider to see how much time workers spend interacting with these mobile units. “We found that 77 percent of their time was spent on parking enforcement and the rest on other tasks like directing traffic,” Lopez said. “They really do spend their time doing what they should be doing, which is enforcing parking regulations.”
A lot of that time is spent ticketing just two companies: UPS and FedEx. In a letter to the City Council, Controller Ron Galperin noted that the two carriers received more than 45,000 tickets in just one year. Armed with such information, the council could potentially create policies that recognize and address this reality.
Planners say they would like to have even more data to better inform the city’s policies.
“One thing I would love to have is a map of all the curbs — what color they are painted and what that means,” Lopez said. “Hack for LA has been manually mapping it, but it’s a handful of volunteers doing it and there is tons of curb out there.”
For any of this data to turn into meaningful policy, the IT operators will need to have political backing. Lopez has reached out to Mike Bonin, chair of the City Council’s transportation committee. “There are so many great ideas out there in open data, but if you don’t have the elected officials on board, there is not going be a meaningful change,” Lopez said.
Adam Stone is a contributing writer for Government Technology magazine.