Forget the Boot, Parking Enforcers. Meet the ‘Barnacle.’

Two cities are testing a new, safer way to immobilize vehicles when their drivers haven’t paid parking tickets.

(Courtesy of Barnacle Parking Enforcement)
As the scofflaw supervisor for Allentown Parking Authority, Jon Haney oversees efforts by Pennsylvania’s third-largest city to crack down on drivers who don’t pay their tickets. Haney and his crew install parking boots on 100 vehicles a month, and, if that doesn’t get motorists to pay up, sometimes they even have to tow their cars or trucks.

But lately Haney’s department has been getting attention from around the country -- as far as Wyoming -- because of a trial run it’s doing of a device that’s designed to take the place of parking boots.

Instead of using the metal clamps to block vehicles from moving, Allentown is experimenting with a product called the Barnacle that covers a vehicle’s windshield instead. The unorthodox device doesn’t necessarily prevent drivers from taking off in their vehicles, but it does make it difficult: Drivers can’t see out the windshield, and moving a car without taking off the Barnacle sets off a loud alarm.

“The main reason that we were interested in this was purely the safety aspect of it,” said Haney. “These devices are much lighter than your regular, standard parking boot. They’re Installed from an upright position, so it doesn’t require any bending or kneeling. Where a regular boot generally has the officer kneeling on the roadway side of a vehicle [because the wheels on that side aren’t blocked by curbs], bringing traffic into play, the Barnacles can be installed from the curbside.”

Allentown is one of two cities, along with Fort Lauderdale, Fla., testing out prototypes of the devices before they go into wider production. So far, the cities are intrigued by what they see.

There are some situations where Barnacles work where boots wouldn’t, like custom-built cars that have only a few inches of clearance beneath the car’s body.

Bryan Greene, the parking enforcement supervisor in Fort Lauderdale, likes the fact that they're lightweight, easily stackable and quick to install.

For drivers in both cities, the Barnacle has been a bit of a curiosity.

“It’s mostly been a shock and an awe. They’re used to an orange boot on the wheel, so a lot of folks were surprised by them,” said Haney.

One irritated driver apparently tried to disable the device, which sticks to the windshields with suction cups. The driver cracked the Barnacle’s plastic outer shell but couldn’t remove it. Allentown parking officers found the damaged device when they came to tow the vehicle.

“The Barnacle lost the battle," said Haney, "but it won the war.” 

Durability is a concern. The officials in both cities said they worry about how long each Barnacle device will last before it needs to be replaced. The product manufacturer agreed to let Allentown continue its testing period into the coming cold months to see how it stands up to winter conditions.

In addition to safety, the Barnacle could make life easier for motorists: It's designed to let them pay parking tickets online or over the phone and receive a special code that would allow them to remove the device immediately themselves and return the Barnacles within a day to a specified drop-off point.

Neither of the two test cities has used that feature, but it could be useful in the future, said Kevin Dougherty, the president of Barnacle Parking Enforcement. Often now, motorists have to travel to a city office to pay their tickets, but they have no way of getting there with their car immobilized. It can take a whole day just to get a car free. 

It’s a concept that some of Barnacle’s competitors are already using. Cities like New York City and Seattle, for example, use “smart boots” from Paylock to make payment easier on drivers.

Dougherty, the president of Barnacle, said the arrangement is good for cities too.

“With this fast deployment and this motorist feature, you’re not sending out people to recover the Barnacle because the Barnacle is coming back to you,” he said. “So, without changing a single thing, you can basically double your deployment activities, and double your revenue collections, because it’s all deployment all the time instead of having to split your time between deploying and recovery.”

For now, though, Allentown and Fort Lauderdale are holding off on using that feature. Although Allentown tested it to confirm it worked, Haney said the city opted to keep control over the whole process, both for liability reasons and so that the customer doesn’t have to be liable for returning the device.