Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Matt Kelly:
August 11, 2010 — These boots are made for scofflaws.
On Aug. 16, the University of Virginia's Department of Parking and Transportation is launching a campaign to collect about $265,000 in delinquent parking fines by immobilizing the vehicles of offenders with outstanding tickets.
Parking enforcement agents will be clamping "traffic boots" on vehicles that have accumulated multiple parking fines. The devices, which lock onto the wheels and immobilize the vehicle, must be unlocked by a Parking and Transportation employee.
"Once the car is immobilized in place, it can't be moved without doing damage," said Rebecca White, director of Parking and Transportation.
According to White, more than 1,500 car owners have piled up $265,000 in unpaid parking fines since July 2009. Of these, 40 license plates represent $50,000 in unpaid fines. The top two delinquents each owe in excess of $3,000.
Parking fines are usually about $45 for each offense, with a $25 fee if paid after the deadline. In fiscal year 2009-10, the University collected about $572,000 in parking fines.
It can be difficult to track a vehicle's owner. Students and staff who have applied to Parking and Transportation for permits or have paid previous citations have already self-reported their license plate numbers, but the department must contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to identify vehicles that have not been previously linked to an individual
When plates can be linked to students, the cases are turned over to Student Financial Services for collection. A student with delinquent fines can be blocked from registering for classes or receiving transcripts until the account is settled.
But many of the delinquencies are cars that are not directly connected to students, White said. If vehicles are registered to staff or non-students, Parking and Transportation sends dunning notices, and will now add booting to the collection effort.
"We have already communicated with 38 car owners about the possibility of booting their cars," White said. "It is hard to figure who is a student and who is not. We hope to influence the drivers so the tickets don't get further out of hand."
If a vehicle is parked on Grounds, the department's enforcement officers can compare the license plate number to those on file as having unpaid tickets. For vehicles with hefty accumulated parking tickets, parking enforcement officers will place the boot on the car or truck and leave a conspicuous note that the vehicle has been immobilized, warning the driver not to attempt to drive off.
"It clamps onto the wheel and has a cylinder lock," said Shaun McCready, assistant director of facilities and operations at Parking and Transportation. "If they try to drive away, it will come in contact with the car's frame and prevent the wheel from moving. It may shred the tire."
The driver then contacts Parking and Transportation and has to pay a $50 removal fee to get the boot taken off the car, as well as the delinquent parking tickets.
McCready and White have talked with transportation officials from several other in-state colleges who are also using a boot to recoup delinquent tickets. Booting rather than towing allows vehicle owners to retrieve their cars without leaving Grounds, White said, and because the boot does not require a vehicle to be unlocked or moved, it is less invasive than towing.
"Once the boot is put on, they only sit about a day," McCready said. "When people find they can't move the car, they present themselves."
White added, “Once they pay the fees, they can get their cars back."
While White expects the program to be successful, it is not how she would like to spend the department's time or resources.
"We would rather sell parking permits than write citations," she said. "We want to influence drivers' behavior before they accumulate more tickets."