Wilmington promises parking improvements after lots of complaints

The city of Wilmington is changing the way it handles parking ticket appeals after numerous complaints. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

The city of Wilmington is changing the way it handles parking ticket appeals after numerous complaints. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Eighteen minutes after feeding a parking meter in downtown Wilmington, Carol Arnott-Robbins says she was issued a parking ticket. She says the six quarters she put in the meter should have let her park for an hour and a half, but a parking enforcement officer issued a ticket anyway.

“Either the parking enforcement officer made a mistake — I’ll be generous,” Arnott-Robbins said. “Or I’m lying, and I assure you I’m not lying. I would not have wasted all this time if I truly had not paid money into that meter.”

Arnott-Robbins is still fighting that $40 ticket from more than 18 months ago. She said she immediately appealed the ticket, but didn’t hear from the city until May 2019. She’s been requesting records from the city and fighting the ticket since. She has a hearing Friday to determine her fate.

But she’s not alone in her fight against erroneous parking tickets in Wilmington and a difficult system for challenging them. City Councilwoman Rysheema Dixon says she’s heard from constituents who say they were ticketed wrongly. “Even if you put in for two hours, they’re sometimes getting tickets even if you put the money in the meter or not,” Dixon said at a Public Works and Transportation Committee meeting Monday night.

In 2018, the city handed out 60,000 parking tickets, a decline from 69,000 in 2014. Five years ago, the city collected $4 million in fines. That number was down to about $3 million by 2018. But despite the drop in tickets and fines collected, there are lots of complaints about the process.

The plight of those drivers was further detailed in a report presented by AAA Mid-Atlantic to members of the committee Monday. AAA’s Jim Lardear said the auto club has heard complaints from numerous members and others about parking tickets in Wilmington including “complete denials of fact when drivers contact the city on parking ticket issues.”

Their report offered recommendations to improve parking in the city. That includes a review of the city’s Office of Civil Appeals to improve the appeals process and the appointment of an ombudsman to review appeals.

“AAA supports reasonable enforcement efforts against traffic scofflaws,” Lardear said. “But we need to make sure that these aren’t innocent drivers facing boots, fines or tows because of poor record keeping.”

In response, the city pledged to improve how it handles parking enforcement. Wilmington Finance Director Brett Taylor said the Purzycki administration admits that oversight of parking activity has been handled by a mixture of different departments over the years. “We began to recognize that we were going to have to address the parking issues in a comprehensive way,” Taylor said. “AAA has been consultative in this case, we’ve had dialogue with them, they’ve given some great suggestions, and we’ve incorporated them into our consultations.”

Taylor presented some of those reforms to City Council members Monday. They include a centralized call center that will hear complaints. The city will streamline the appeals process with an online system to allow drivers to contest tickets.“We’re going to have someone working within this appeals process who is trained to be able to take a look at the parking situation and render a decision,” Taylor said.

Other reforms will come through upgraded technology. Older meters will be replaced with kiosks that can accept cash, coins, credit cards and work with the city’s parking app. Also, enforcement officers will get new state-of-the-art handheld devices that can take photos and print tickets with the photo displayed on the ticket. The devices will have GPS technology that can locate officers and the vehicles they are ticketing.

Carol Arnott-Robbins applauds the reforms as she awaits her Friday court date to appeal her ticket. “I am very optimistic that the city has addressed these problems and they are improving the process,” she said.

But even with these improvements, she’s not taking any chances. She collects proof that she’s paid for her spot every time she parks in the city. “When I get out of my car, I feed the meter, and I take a picture of the meter so it’s date and time stamped and shows how much time I have in the meter.”

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