Unpaid parking tickets and unpaid tolls are making news lately, maybe because the amounts at issue are wildly large. On the West Coast, The San Francisco Standard logged data on 6.4 million parking tickets issued by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) from Monday, January 1, 2018, to Sunday, September 24, 2023. Yeah, that's a lot of windshield wipers playing paperweight: An average of nearly 3,058 tickets every day for 2,093 days. The Standard says that the total fine amount for all the tickets came to about $601 million, averaging almost $94 per ticket. Factoring in overdue payment penalties from about 1 million tickets, or 16%, adds $137 million. That turns errant parking jobs and civil disobedience into a theoretical $737 million bill. The data shows that at least $200 million of that bill is outstanding, which The Standard believes is higher because the data only goes back to 2018. The paper suggests this is a pressing matter because Mayor London Breed believes the city by the bay could be facing a $500 million shortfall for its next fiscal year.
As usual in these stories, a few outliers contributed more than their share to the total. A Lincoln owner left about $81,000 in unpaid citations on the books for 365 tickets over five years, a Mercedes owner posted a $50,000 tab for fines received in a single city block over two years. The SFMTA told The Standard about methods to try to recover fines, including sending information to the California DMV so owners couldn't get their vehicles registered. Something went wrong in that process for these two vehicle owners, clearly. Both cars are now registered to an auto salvage yard.
There are similar tales in other cities. As The Standard noted, on the East Coast, a New York City municipal report found locally registered drivers owe The Big Apple more than $1 billion for parking fines and camera-generated violations over the six years from 2017 to 2022. Separate from that, NYC's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) ran a sting operation to seize vehicles with enormous unpaid toll fines, netting 44 cars in three days that collectively owed $1 million, more than $22,700 per car on average. A Range Rover driver owed $52,000 in unpaid tolls. The toll amount on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge where the drivers were caught is $11.19 without a discount, $6.94 with New York's E-ZPass. At the beginning of the year, a Mazda CX-5 driver the MTA caught on the same bridge owed about $57,000 in past-due fines, one of the 21 vehicles "intercepted" that day and the 2,705 vehicles the MTA has stopped this year. The agency estimates it loses $50 million every year to drivers avoiding tolls.