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Connecticut Giving the ‘Boot’ to Drivers Who Don’t Pay Fines

Stamford, Conn., began using an electronic vehicle-immobilization device, ‘Smart Boot,’ a year ago to make drivers pay for their parking tickets. Since implementation, there has been a drastic increase in payments.

(TNS) — The smart boot excels at its job.

The city began using the electronic vehicle-immobilization device a year ago to catch motorists who fail to pay their parking tickets, and the results are in.

Since last February, 800 violators have been caught and the city has collected nearly $500,000 in parking fines and fees, Transportation Bureau Chief Jim Travers said.

It’s a marked difference from the previous year, when scofflaws’ cars were towed instead of electronically booted.

That year the city caught only 173 violators and collected just $89,000 in fines and fees.

So four-and-a-half times more scofflaws were caught using the smart boot, and the city collected more than five times as much in fines and fees.

“Before, we had no strong collection process in place. We were enforcing six hours a day, five days a week,” Travers said. “Now we can enforce in the evenings and on weekends because people can immediately reclaim their cars.”

Under the old system, traffic enforcement officers towed cars only when city hall was open so offenders could go there to pay their fines then go to the towing yard to pick up their vehicles. Officers often gave offenders rides, which meant they spent less time on enforcement.

Under the new system, enforcment officers scan license plates with electronic readers. Violators who find a smart boot locked onto their front tire will also find a window sticker instructing them to call a toll-free number. Someone explains the amount owed and takes the violator’s credit card number. Once the card clears, the violator gets a code that unlocks the boot. The violator removes it and returns it to city hall.

“Before, people would go out and see their car was gone and call police. By the time they figured out it was towed and made their way to the Cashiering and Permitting Office, they were upset,” Travers said. “Now they go out, they see the boot, they see the sticker, and in a few minutes they are on their way.”

When the city began using the electronic boot last February, 5,661 scofflaws had 28,035 outstanding tickets, owing the city a total of $2,078,354.

Now there are 3,959 scofflaws. The number of outstanding tickets is 15,136, slightly more than half of what it was. And the amount owed the city is $1,384,777.

A scofflaw is someone who has three or more unpaid tickets, or owes at least $250 in fines and late fees.

“It looks like people are starting to pay,” Travers said. “The number of non-payers is coming down, and the amount owed to the city dropped from $2 million to $1.3 million, which I think is pretty good.”

The boot may deter more than just those who are immobilized, he said.

“The way we used to do it was invisible — your car was just gone,” Travers said. “Now we leave a tag on your window and a bright yellow boot on your tire and everybody who walks by knows what happened. It becomes real.”

The goal is not to boot, he said. It’s to get people to pay what they owe.

“Hopefully over time people who are delinquent will know we have eyes on the road,” he said.

The city uses the smart boot under its contract with a New Jersey company called PayLock. Stamford began with 15 boots but now has 20 in circulation, Traffic Engineer Frank Petise said.

Motorists must return the boot to city hall on Washington Boulevard within 24 hours of removing it. If not, their credit card is charged $25 a day, to a maximum of $500 — the cost of a boot.

“So far we’ve had one person who didn’t return it immediately, and one instance where someone damaged a boot and we had to charge them $500,” Travers said. “People have been mostly respectful. They know the boot is coming because we send them at least two late notices, then they get a separate notification that says, ‘You have unpaid parking citations and you may be immobilized or towed.’”

A few people couldn’t get the 16-pound boot off their tire and called the toll-free number for help.

Travers said four people asked for assistant for medical reasons, and seven said they couldn’t figure out how to remove the boot. Two spotted a traffic enforcement officer who removed it for them.

Seventy-nine people didn’t want to pay by credit card so they got a ride to city hall to pay in cash, he said.

“I think this method is bringing more people into compliance. I think having a visible boot gets people thinking, ‘I don’t want that to happen to me,’” Travers said. “We’re going to start analyzing the percentage of people who pay their parking tickets now, and what percentage pay on time.”

It will be interesting to see what the analysis shows, he said.

“We’re trying to change behavior,” Travers said. “We want people to follow the law. If not, we have people out there who will boot a car.”

©2020 The Advocate (Stamford, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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