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How Open Government Data Saved New Yorkers Thousands On Parking Tickets 286

jfruh (300774) writes "Ben Wellington is a New Yorker and city planner with an interest in NYC Open Data, the city's online open government initiative. One thing he noticed in this vast dataset was that just two fire hydrants in the city generated tens of thousands of dollars a year in tickets. The sleuthing by which he figured out why is a great example of how open government data can help citizens in concrete ways."
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How Open Government Data Saved New Yorkers Thousands On Parking Tickets

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @11:01AM (#47164333)

    ...this would be resolved. It's clear from the first picture there's two competing rules. It's marked by the city as valid parking, but there's a fire hydrant. Which law supersedes the other? Probably the fire hydrant law, but a decent judge would have understood how the mistake was made and would throw out the ticket. If the city paid attention, they'd know to fix the space so as not to waste their meter maid's time.

    But nobody bothers to fight their tickets anymore. If you receive one that makes 100% sense, go ahead and eat it, but when there's some doubt, like this, fight it!

  • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @11:31AM (#47164651) the city most likely deliberately ignored the parking issue because they were bringing in so much money. There is no doubt that they knew what was happening and made a conscious decision to leave things as they were.

    Government at all levels have become adversarial as those who are employed by it seek to protect their revenue stream at all costs.

  • by Spamalope ( 91802 ) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @11:43AM (#47164763)
    We'll need a follow up to see if they change the markings back in a year. Every 3-6 months the same intersections in Houston have missing signs with an officer standing by to issue citations. After a few days that sign is returned and the office moves to the next intersection on the list that 'just happened' to lose it's sign *again*.

    The traffic light and painted arrows say it's a turn lane? Well, the fine print of the traffic law says it isn't without a sign too, so pay your fine. I feel safer already, and felt even better when I found several more intersections they were playing the same trick with round robin.
  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @11:46AM (#47164789)

    I've defended myself in such cases when I was in college and the local police were making a significant amount of their revenue through frivolous tickets. They brought in witnesses and everything in one case. Every time the city was extremely angry with me for taking it to court. The judge was ok with it however. The police officers were literally rolling their eyes in court. I asked one if she needed eye drops and the judge snickered.

    The problem with parking tickets is they are usually based on Ordinances which, in the USA, are often passed by committee... sometimes even by the local law enforcement and can be changed on a whim. In one case, they'd required a permit for certain parking spots which I had, but a few days before I got my ticket they "revoked" permit parking in that area with no notification or indication. I lost that case with the judges sympathy. The fines are too small to get a real lawyer for, but taking them to court at least deprives local government of any profit. Also, it's fun to play Perry Mason and give a cops a hard time on the stand. Just be respectful and don't argue with the judge. If the judge appears not to like you and/or be a "hanging judge" just sit back and lose. You might make things worse by being talking too much. In my experience though, you wont run into much of that in traffic court. Familly court however? Those judges, understandably, have a bad day, ever day... Just nod and agree with them.

  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @11:57AM (#47164883) Journal

    You have to fight more creatively than that. As others have noted, many authorities cynically use situations like this to "generate" revenue. They've set the system up to make it difficult to fight and change. Going through whatever process they set up is not likely to have any effect.

    I tried their system on a red light camera ticket. Had my evidence that their yellow was too short and requested a hearing. The hearing was a total kangaroo trial. My evidence was ignored. It was picture number one showing that the light was red before the car crossed the painted line, and picture number two showing the red light and the car in the intersection. Verdict: guilty. End of discussion. That the light in picture number one would have been yellow if it had been set to the correct time was not considered. The judge advised me that I could go on to municipal court and raise that question there, where it would be considered. Well, maybe. But I was through with them. What would happen next if I went on? The muni court would rule against me and tell me I could appeal?

    They've also cunningly set their shakedown price at a low enough level that it's not worth fighting. The ticket was "only" $75. I fought anyway, but lost of course. Also, to dodge around the requirement that the accused gets to confront the accuser, they made this an offense against a city ordinance, not a traffic violation. So you don't get screwed by your auto insurance company seizing on this as an excuse to consider you a more dangerous driver, and raising your rates. This dodges around another problem, which is that they have nothing to show who was actually driving the car. They simply fine the owner, never mind who was driving.

    There's a flip side to this weaseling out of those legal requirements. The simplest way to fight is to refuse to pay. Their power to compel payment is much more limited. They can't put a black mark on your record and have the state stop you from renewing your driver's license or car license, because it's not a traffic violation.

    So, what to do? I can't vote against the politicians who set this all up, as I don't live in that city. I can however boycott businesses in that city, and I do. It's not just pure revenge, it's also prudence. I don't risk any more tickets if I never drive there.

    In a similar vein, I fight against the MAFIAA creatively. One can pirate, of course, and millions do. But what I did was dig into the backgrounds of the people they use in their battles to terrorize ordinary citizens. Specifically, their expert witnesses. In one case, the witness was affiliated with a university, and was using their name. I inquired of that university's provost whether they approved of this activity by their employee. Turned out, they didn't even know about it. And when they found out thanks to me telling them about it, they definitely didn't like it. Haven't heard a peep out of that expert witness since.

  • by Ravaldy ( 2621787 ) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @12:42PM (#47165267)

    If you get a parking ticket and there is no signs, you need to take a picture. That will get you off the hook without seeing the judge. At least that's the case where I live.

  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @12:55PM (#47165395) Journal
    Last time I fought a ticket was in Lynnwood, WA. I won - it was a bogus ticket. The magistrate threw it right out within 10 seconds of the start of my case. Of course, the administrative fee for going to court was $125 - as much as the ticket itself. So what did I gain, except the loss of half a day?
  • by Insightfill ( 554828 ) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @02:01PM (#47166055) Homepage

    Of course, the administrative fee for going to court was $125 - as much as the ticket itself. So what did I gain, except the loss of half a day?

    In the City of Chicago, the court fee for arguing a parking ticket is MORE THAN THE TICKET. I learned that the hard way, when a "No Parking" sign was pointing at a hydrant, but apparently the "No Parking" zone extended another 100 feet to the next intersection. Pay $50, or go to court for $65? (These prices are from 10 years ago; I can't believe it's gotten better since then.)

  • by Whorhay ( 1319089 ) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @02:23PM (#47166239)

    A small town where I grew up was infamous in the area for always having a cop hiding in the immediate vicinity of a 25mph speed limit sign. They would ticket anybody and everybody that was going above the limit when they passed that sign. It was well known that the only reason they could have a police department at all was that speed trap, and it was their main source of revenue for the town. That went on for more than a decade until one day they ticketed the wrong person, he turned out to be a lawyer that knew state traffic laws pretty well. He recognized that they had illegally reduced the speed limit on a state route. the law being they couldn't lower it below 35 without an extenuating circumstance like the presence of a school. So he took them to court and forced them to repay over a decades worth of speeding ticket revenue. He managed to completely bankrupt the town government and no one has to fear a speed trap there anymore.

    There is a city about an hour away from where I live now that has a reputation for speed trapping though they haven't done anything illegal that I can tell. They've just lowered the speed limit on a 15 mile stretch of interstate from 70 to 55, for no apparent reason other than to have a ready supply of speeders whenever they want. I have to drive through there periodically and I refuse to stop and conduct any business in their municipality. And I go out of my way to bring up the whole thing whenever someone mentions that town.

  • by lars_stefan_axelsson ( 236283 ) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @04:21AM (#47170013) Homepage

    Snow. The design you talk about works well if there is no snow on the ground.

    Well, thing is we have the same kind of fire hydrant in Sweden as well. So the snow argument doesn't "hold water"... They're not difficult to find since being in the street there's not much snow on top of it (we clear our streets, if the fire engine can get there, then the fire hydrant can be used) and there's a sign on a post marking the direction and distance to the fire hydrant.

    It bugs me though that I haven't ever gotten the "why are manhole covers round" when interviewing in the US. My first answer would be, "They're not. Fire hydrants are rectangular for instance. Next question please..." :-)

The next person to mention spaghetti stacks to me is going to have his head knocked off. -- Bill Conrad