PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Have you ever received a late notice for a parking ticket you didn’t know you got? You’re not alone.
It’s happened to Shawn Wright from Pleasantville, N.J. twice, and he’s so mad he swears he won’t come back to Philadelphia.
“I don’t see the point of spending my money, especially during these times, in a city that’s not going to appreciate my visit,” Wright told Eyewitness News.
In March, Wright was out on South Street and paid to park his car, feeding a kiosk from 7:47 until 10:07 in the evening. He says he put the parking stub in plain sight on his dash, and when he went back to his car at the end of the evening, there was no ticket he says.
But about a month later he received a notice in the mail saying he was issued a parking ticket that night at 8:29. And by then the $36 expired meter fine had a $20 late fee tacked on. Luckily the stub was still on his dashboard, so he tried fighting the ticket, mailing in a copy to the Philadelphia Parking Authority. In return, his fine only grew and came with threats of booting, towing and even a warning it would be sent to a collection agency.
“If the goal of this process is to frustrate people into paying money into the system, then I guess it’s a perfect process,” he said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten this kind of a ticket. I got one in 2010, and I didn’t fight it because I didn’t have any type of receipt to prove that I paid my parking.”
Howard Buzgon feels Wright’s pain. He says his food delivery company has received dozens of “phantom” parking tickets this year. A phantom ticket is one that is written but never actually shows up on the windshield.
“I can understand one or two tickets blowing away from time to time but not a continuing pattern of this happening on a weekly basis,” he said. “I think there’s a secret agenda somewhere.”
Buzgon said the problem has grown dramatically for his company, which he asked us not to identify for fear of retribution. He says a few years ago, the company received maybe one or two phantom tickets a year. This year, he says it has received 65 to 70. With a fleet of two dozen trucks, he says the tickets are impossible to fight.
“At the end of the day the consumer’s getting screwed here, and I think they [the Parking Authority] need to do better,” said state Representative Tony Payton (D, Philadelphia).
Payton says he believes parking enforcement officers write illegitimate tickets and intentionally don’t put them on the windshield.
“I have no doubt they have quotas,” he said. “That kind of message on them, ‘I might get fired if I don’t issue some tickets,’ sure I’m going to issue some illegitimate ones and just never put them on someone’s windshield because you don’t find out for six or seven weeks.”
The Parking Authority flatly denies that.
“Parking enforcement officers do not have quotas, have never had quotas in the 28 years I’ve been here,” executive director Vince Fenerty told Eyewitness News.
However, Fenerty admits that the authority does have an expectation of the number of tickets each area of the city will produce over a given time. But as long as an officer is patrolling correctly, as judged by the logs in an officer’s handheld computer, Fenerty says there are no ramifications for not producing a certain number of tickets.
So why would a parking enforcement officer write a ticket and intentionally not put it on a windshield? The Parking Authority does have a term for these phantom tickets. It’s called “hardbacking,” when the hard copy of the ticket goes missing.
“I’ve never been able in my 28 years to find out why someone would do that,” Fenerty said. “But our policy here at the Parking Authority has always been for 28 years if we find an officer has hardbacked someone, and we can prove it, we terminate that officer.”
Fenerty says that has happened a handful of times since he’s been at the authority but it is not a frequent occurrence.
Howard Buzgon is convinced he knows why someone would write a phantom ticket intentionally:
“I think this is coming down from somebody looking for ways to raise money.”
Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3