Parking in Portland

This story is part of an occasional series exploring how and where Portland enforces its parking laws as the city prepares to increase the number of revenue-generating metered spaces.

For most people who park on Portland’s streets, the sinking feeling from finding a $39 yellow-and-white ticket under a windshield wiper is enough to seriously wreck their day.

But for the city’s worst parking offenders, citations have become a routine part of life in one of America’s fastest-growing cities, according to an analysis of nearly four years of parking tickets by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

“Really, I lost track a long time ago of how many I’ve received,” said David Fones, owner of the downtown club Scandals. His illegal-parking tab since the beginning of 2011 has reached at least 112 tickets worth $4,526. “I think I’ve deserved almost all of them.”

As it is in most U.S. urban areas, commercial-delivery and trucking companies are a seemingly endless gold mine of parking revenue for the Portland Bureau of Transportation. For instance, delivery giant UPS — which claims the city intentionally limits loading zones even as it promotes high-density, high-rise development — racked up at least 1,885 tickets worth $130,483 in fines in four years.

One UPS truck in particular was hit with 262 tickets worth $18,093 from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 1, 2014, mostly for double parking and staying beyond the permitted time in loading zones.

However, the review of 900,944 tickets dished out during that period showed personal cars and trucks dominated the list of most-cited vehicles. Heavily ticketed people, like Fones, paid thousands of dollars for regularly violating parking codes.

They blame their costly parking-ticket habit on everything from forgetfulness and the realities of running small businesses to hectic lives and chronically sleeping in.

A Portland officer snapped this photo of a Honda that received a ticket for overtime parking on Jan. 9. Between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 1, 2014, the car was the city’s second most-ticketed vehicle, racking up 237 tickets worth $11,605. 

After the UPS truck, the vehicle with the most citations was a Honda owned by Lake Oswego physician Alan Morimoto. The car received 237 tickets worth $11,605.

Morimoto and his wife, Sharon, were shocked to hear they were near the top of the list. The car is a loaner to their daughter, Rachel, a 22-year-old Portland Community College student, who had apparently managed to pay off the tickets without her parents suspecting a thing.

“I took care of them right away,” Rachel Morimoto said. “I knew it was extremely expensive, but I didn’t realize it was that much.”

If an average of $2,901 a year in parking tickets makes you cringe, consider this: She said she also pays for a parking space at a garage near her downtown apartment.

“Obviously, I need to start using that more,” she said.

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To some degree, many drivers who live or visit the city – and probably more than you would expect – can relate to Morimoto.

During the 47 months reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive, more than 467,100 different vehicles received parking tickets. At least a third of those autos were responsible for 64 percent of all tickets. Since 14,463 of the citations written by the city didn’t include plate information, the number could be higher.

What’s more, 136 vehicles where ticketed 50 or more times. Of those, only 20 were marked as belonging to a commercial delivery company.

As Portland has bloomed, parking enforcement has grown into a vibrant – and often spirited – enterprise.

On Jan. 20, 1958 – 57 years ago next week – Portland deputized its first platoon of “meter maids” to patrol coin-paid spaces between Southwest Jefferson and Burnside streets and Second and 12th avenues. They were charged with a short, memorize-at-a-glance list of violations.

Today, the city has more than 9,000 metered spaces, with more on the way as the paid-parking program prepares to expand into Northwest Portland’s bustling Nob Hill district. Currently, solar-powered meters stretching from downtown into Old Town, the Pearl District and the Lloyd District take credit cards, and the city’s 56 enforcement officers prowl for vehicles disobeying 89 parking laws seven days a week.

From the 2011 to 2013, city revenue from parking tickets grew 45 percent to $15.7 million, even as the number of tickets jumped by only 14 percent.

Mark Friedman, who manages PBOT’s parking division, said the agency doesn’t engage in targeted ticket blitzes or setting quotas for officers.

Those who think otherwise, Friedman said, should consider this: “Think of all the times you have parked past their paid time downtown and didn’t get a ticket.” He said he’s sure it’s more common than drivers who have received a citation. 

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Still, Wendi Mattias-Day, owner of Old Town Florist, can’t help but wonder if enforcement officers are actively targeting vehicles that she and her husband use for come-and-go deliveries.

Since 2011, a Chevrolet registered to Mattias-Day has received 105 citations for $4,375, including 42 for “no meter receipt” and 56 for overtime violations.

Portland’s most common parking violations

Number of tickets issued during the period between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 1, 2014.

1. $39 Overtime meter (233,775)

2. $60 No meter receipt (203,668)

3. $90 Loading zone (60,086)

Mattias-Day said a van the couple uses for large floral orders is also frequently ticketed. She said the business relies heavily on a free 30-minute loading zone outside the front door, but they can’t always get the vehicle loaded in that time frame.

Every day includes a cat-and-mouse game with parking enforcers on foot. “I feel like I’m always on their radar,” Mattias-Day said. “They’ll go by and see me here, and it seems like they’re back exactly 30 minutes later. They seem to watch for certain vehicles.”

Officers aren’t trained to target specific vehicles, Friedman said, but they do learn how to pace themselves to catch violators in loading zones and short-time spaces, Friedman said.

“That’s their job,” he said. “If they don’t get back to a space in time, it’s usually because they have been distracted by something.”

 

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Whether or not specific vehicles are targeted, UPS, DHL and FedEx, which combined have paid at least $131,222 in the past four years, said Portland needs more free loading zones for delivery trucks but City Hall is resistant to giving up money-making metered spaces.

Adding to the challenge, said UPS spokesman Dan McMackin, is the city’s unwavering fidelity to high-density mixed development. As the heart of the Rose City builds upward, adding new addresses in high-rise condos, offices and retail locations, drivers must stay parked longer in the same spot in order to deliver parcels – often dozens of them — along a single block.

A fine for staying past 30 minutes in a loading zone is $90.

Meanwhile, more people in the city means more cars and intensified competition for the same number of parking spaces along a street.

“Frequently, when our drivers get to a loading zone, it’s already taken by a car,” McMackin said.

Noting that UPS moves about 6.5 percent of nation’s gross domestic product daily, McMackin said double-parking on the street by blocking a lane of traffic is too often the only option.

“People want their goods, and we need to keep commerce moving,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a virtual package, so we need a place to park our vehicles.”

Portland’s serial parking offenders

Make of vehicles, registered owners and number of tickets for the period between Jan. 1, 2011 to Dec. 1, 2014.

1. UPS truck PF29109 (262 tickets worth $18,093)

2. Honda registered to Alan Morimoto of Lake Oswego, but driven by his daughter. (237, $11,605)

3. Chevrolet registered to James K. Leonard of Southwest Portland (207, $9,335)

4. UPS truck PF33795 (116, $8,031)

5. Jeep registered to David Fones, owner of Scandals club (112, $4,526)

6. Volvo registered to Delaney Kelly, furniture designer and one half of music duo Deelay Ceelay, but driven by his wife (110, $4,284)

7. UPS truck PF33807 (109, $8,354)

8. UPS truck PF29624 (108, $7,897)

9. Honda registered to Richard I. Booker Jr. of Southwest Portland (107, $6,095)

10. Chevrolet registered to Wendi Mattias-Day, owner of Old Town Florist (105, $4,375)

This is far from a new problem for UPS.

In New York, for example, the Atlanta-based company pays about $4 million a year for parking infractions. McMackin said UPS challenges few of the millions of parking tickets it receives every year around the world. Instead, it simply budgets for them.

“It’s just the cost of doing business,” he said.

In larger cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco, commercial delivery companies account for 20 to 30 percent of the parking citations issued.

It’s hard to know what the exact number is in Portland, since PBOT is sporadic in how it records commercial violators. Officers are not consistent in whether or not they list the name company on tickets, Friedman said.

But if there’s a brown whale for the city’s parking officers, the converse of Melville’s elusive “White Whale,” it’s a big UPS truck with the license plate PF29109.

Making its daily runs in downtown Portland, the vehicle is apparently the easiest violator to catch. The city’s most-ticketed vehicle averages more than one citation per week.

Of course, the drivers assigned to the truck hardly give the piles of tickets a second thought. Retrieving them from the windshield is as routine is getting a signature for a package.

“We just advise them to turn in the tickets at the end of their shifts,” McMackin said, “and we pay them.”

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Scandals owner Fones also considers his frequent parking tickets part of the cost of running his Southwest Stark Street club.

A $10-a-day U-park lot and a garage are located a couple blocks away, but he said the lot’s rules against coming and going once you’ve paid force him to park his Jeep on the street outside Scandals.

“I’m here for several hours a day and need my car to pick up supplies at the store and to run other errands,” Fones said. “But (parking lots) don’t let you leave during the day.”

The vast majority of his tickets were for overtime parking when he gets busy and can’t make it out to move the car. But he also was dinged seven times for no meter receipt and once for illegally parking in a loading zone.

In the end, Fones estimates the fines that he has paid evens out to about as much as he would have paid for a downtown garage space.

However, Andrea Hand, a marketing and advertising consultant whose Lexus racked up 100 tickets worth $3,844 tickets, said every citation still stings. She blamed most of her violations on meetings with clients that ran long.

“Third and Taylorish in downtown is the worst,” Hand said. “Sometimes, it feels like I’m single-handedly funding the city of Portland.”

— Joseph Rose
503-221-8029
jrose@oregonian.com
@pdxcommute

— Fedor Zarkhin
503-294-7674
fzarkhin@oregonian.com
@fedorzarkhin

— News researcher Lynne Palombo of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to this story. 

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