Delaware blogger wages parking war

After hearing one horror story after another about parking in downtown Wilmington, blogger and social media guru Ken Grant is taking matters into his own hands.

Last year, Grant launched a parking blog which features produced videos, or Public Service Announcements (PSA’s), addressing issues like confusing signage and frustrations over what some claim are illegitimate tickets, in a kind-of tongue-in-cheek sorta way. And recently, his blog has been getting some serious traction.

“It’s not just a matter of people trying to get out of tickets or anything. It’s a matter of people simply understanding there’s legitimate tickets and there’s illegitimate tickets and the city needs to respect that,” said Grant.

And it seems no one is safe from Wilmington’s parking police, called PREO’s, short for Parking Regulation Enforcement Officers. The News Journal reported Friday even Wilmington Mayor James Baker was cited for parking in a space for more than two hours. The Mayor appealed it, saying he moved the car and re-parked. He was eventually spared from having to dish out $40 – his ticket was dismissed. However Mayor Baker’s experience, Grant says, seems to be the exception and not the rule.

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“So that’s where this problem really seems to be existing, is the fact that people either are frustrated, but don’t feel that it’s worth their time and effort to fight it, or when they do try to fight it, you know, they then get pressed.”

Grant also points to the city’s parking rules, that he describes as vague, in a system Grant says is based on quotas. In the News Journal article about Mayor Baker’s ticket, Finance Director James Jones is said to have encouraged ticket writers to issue at least 30 citations a day to meet a $3 million target, money the city depends on in its budget.

“They are clearly using this as a revenue source,” said Grant. “If you do the math, that comes out to them having to issue over 6-thousand tickets a month, or well over 70-thousand tickets a year.” 

“Every city in the country has multiple sources of revenue, as does our city, parking being just one of about 30 sources.” said Mayor Baker’s Chief of Staff Bill Montgomery. “Do we track every revenue source and have some benchmarks for them, sure… it is simply not a quota.”

Still, Montgomery says the city is already taking steps to address some of the grievances aired on Grant’s blog and expressed through the PSA’s. Montgomery says, for starters, city staffers are walking every block in the downtown area looking for confusing or missing signs. Additionally, he says Finance Department staff are working on a parking Frequently Asked Questions section for the city’s website and facebook page. Simultaneously, Montgomery says the Civil Appeals Division is reviewing the appeals process.

“I’m not discounting some of the complaints, but I’m simply saying that you can’t have it all to one end of the spectrum or the other. The thing we’re trying to do as a city is find a happy medium here,” said Montgomery.

Bloomsberry Flowers employee Jessica Knowlton hopes that happy medium is found soon. The flower shop just moved from Trolley Square to the historic LoMa district last summer. She says one of the store’s regulars got a ticket at the store’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in September.

“From what he told me, he got out of his car and he went to the back of his car to get some change… and by the time he came around to the front of his car he had a ticket… that’s an issue that prevents people from coming back.”

Jessica says a number of her customers tell her they don’t want to make the trip downtown because they’re afraid of getting tickets – a major concern for her and her bosses.

“We understand the need for meters… There needs to be some sort of level-headed, common sense used with the ticketing of people.”

“We need to understand exactly what the rules are, we need to probably explore the idea of a better metering system, like Philadelphia and some other areas here,” said Grant. “I think the city has an opportunity here to turn this system around to become a model system for other cities to follow.”

Just some of the things Grant and city officials will discuss when they meet next week. Grant is expected to have a sit-down with Montgomery next Friday afternoon. 

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