Not long ago, parking in the city of Detroit was much more of a headache for visitors, with broken or difficult to use parking meters all over downtown. The city also missed out on millions of revenue due to uncollected parking fines caused by City Hall’s dysfunction.
Starting in 2014, under the direction of former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, the city began modernizing its parking operation. It also hiked parking fines significantly as a way to raise income. Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council have continued those efforts.
We argued at the time that high fines were the wrong approach, given out of town visitors often pick up the bulk of the tickets. Discouraging visitors to Detroit is the last thing the city needs, and nothing can turn people off like a hefty ticket.
Now, the city faces a class-action lawsuit over its expensive parking fines, which plaintiffs are calling unconstitutional.
Orr had approved $15 parking fine hikes across the board, generating more revenue for the city that was recovering from bankruptcy. Parking violation fees jumped to $45, $65 and $95, respectively, from $30, $50 and $80. The new rules also eliminated a $10 rate for early payment.
Similarly, in July 2015, the City Council voted to revise Detroit's parking ordinance to create varying zones — and steeper rates — throughout the city.
The case alleges that the fines have been issued illegally because Orr’s order “was never enacted or published and never became law.” Prompted by consultants, Orr increased the fines because the city had been paying $32 to issue and process a $30 parking violation.
But they weren’t just trying to cover costs — they were trying to raise money as well. In his plan to bring Detroit out of bankruptcy, Orr budgeted to raise $11.4 million through parking fines in fiscal year 2013 alone. At the time of the price hike, nearly 50 percent of the roughly 3,500 old meters were broken.
Now that’s changed. In 2015, a $3.5 million digital meter system called ParkDetroit replaced the old parking meters and has increased city revenue on parking tickets by more than 30 percent, a return of $13 million on the investment that year. Revenue from the high-tech meters has also jumped, thanks to their convenience (and the simple fact they work).
Detroit stands in a much better financial position today. The city should not continue to heavily fine residents and visitors and risk hindering the growth of local businesses and downtown development. Detroit went from having some of the lowest parking fines to some of the highest for its size. The cheapest parking ticket in New York City costs $65, but it’s also the nation’s largest and most congested city.
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, city officials should reconsider the fines and the burden they are placing on visitors and residents.