Case Study: How to “Lose” $3 Million by “Saving” $1 Million…

I was perusing the Twitter this morning and noticed a lot of folks were posting links to this story about how some cuts by DPW, saving $1 million, will end up “costing” Muni/MTA $3 million in lost revenue from parking tickets. Predictably the comments section of the Chronicle and Bloggerville has the usual “wtf?” reaction. However, I think this budget incident has a lot to teach us all about How Dumb Things Are Getting.
First, as I’ve always said, relying on parking tickets as a revenue source is at best unstable, and at worst, takes what should be a traffic and safety enforcement system and turns it into a tax system via the courts. Either way, it’s a poor way to plan ahead, since if people start obeying the law and avoid parking where they can get a ticket, the system “loses” money. Ironically the City becomes put in the position of wanting more people to park illegally just so they get “free money” from tickets. That’s never a good policy, any way you look at it.
Second, when the public reads this story, inevitably someone asks “gosh, why didn’t someone ‘run the numbers’ to see if cutting DPW street cleaning would really save any money?” And the answer is “and which someone would that be?” Muni/MTA do not run the streetcleaning service – that’s the job of the Department of Public Works. That agency had a mandated “across the board” cut to its budget, and they complied with that request. No one at DPW “ran the numbers” because it’s not their job – they aren’t in charge of the parking ticket program or Muni/MTA’s budget. Likewise, while Muni/MTA could bitch all they wanted about “losing money,” it’s not like too many people were listening.
Finally, this, like many issues, shows that leadership at the mayor-appointed MTA and City Hall has been lacking. If we had a cheif executive who didn’t spend so much time away from California and thinking about his next job, perhaps one of the many well-paid people could have figured this out, instead of planning to spend over $1 million for 50 bikes and use them for a press conference. We’re finally seeing some hope with Supervisors Chiu and Dufty taking the time to do their jobs (instead of playground antics like some of the other Board members), which is a start.
Let’s hope that as we go through Budget Hell, people don’t make decisions like these that don’t benefit anyone in the long run. And maybe in the chaos, someone will emerge to take control of the situation and find the best fix possible, if the chief executive is no longer interested in doing so. Now THAT would be something worth writing about!

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3 Responses to Case Study: How to “Lose” $3 Million by “Saving” $1 Million…

  1. mattymatt says:

    Can’t they just keep issuing the tickets, even if the street sweeper isn’t coming through?

  2. oblomov says:

    The city may also be losing money because cars whose meters are expired aren’t getting tickets. I’ve been in the financial district a few times recently in the early afternoon (around 2pm) and I’ve walked past two blocks of metered spots that were all full. All of the meters were expired and no car had a ticket. I’ve seen interviews with DPT employees that give out tickets, and they give the impression that there is no shortage of cars to ticket. Those tickets are at least $50 each!

  3. dan says:

    Parking tickets are at best a flat tax (hurting the poor) and one that disproportionally targets people who *have* to drive for a living.
    They make working, shopping, or eating in the city a complete pain in the ass, harming local businesses as a result. They’re the worst way to raise revenue imaginable.
    As for the post above, the meter maids are doing WAY to good a job – if my meter expires for more than 5 minutes I can almost guarantee I’ll get a ticket. If my girlfriend spends the night at my house and doesn’t leave by 10am (2 hour local parking) there’s a 30% chance the visit will cost her $60.

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