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T strikes back at parking culprits

Scofflaws at lots on honor system risk levies, towing

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By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / January 10, 2011

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The MBTA is cracking down on commuters who fail to pay at parking lots, putting an end to years in which the transportation authority did little to deter parking scofflaws or collect parking debts.

The T owns and operates more than 100 lots and garages, about half of which have an attendant or gate to prevent entering or exiting without paying; most of those cost $5 to $7 per day. But the remaining 66 lots — a total of 24,546 spaces — operate on the honor system, in which the numbered spaces correspond to marked slots on payment boards, and customers are expected to stuff dollar bills into the appropriate slot. The parking fees at those honor lots range from $3 a day for the commuter boat to $4 for the commuter rail and $5 at rapid-transit lots.

In recent years, hundreds of commuters have repeatedly ignored the parking fees. That group includes about 50 chronic scofflaws who have each skipped out on paying 50 or more times, taking advantage of the T’s lax enforcement — and perhaps the fact that the fine for nonpayment is just $1.

Now the T is slapping the cars in unpaid spaces with brightly colored stickers, mailing sternly worded letters, and towing the cars of those commuters who ignored dozens and even hundreds of notices that asked them to pay their parking debts plus an extra dollar for each offense.

Since November, the T has collected more than $22,300 in overdue parking fees — and the $1 fines — from 67 of its worst 100 offenders, by towing or threatening to tow cars.

“We’re really targeting folks who had dozens and dozens and in some cases hundreds of violations,’’ said T General Manager Richard A. Davey. “We have millions of people each week who pay their fair share, who buy expensive passes, who pay their parking charges. So it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that everybody is paying, because if we’re not, then those who [pay] are subsidizing the folks who are taking advantage of the system.’’

More than 800 people parked without paying at least 10 times in the past few years, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. Davey asked the T to start by going after the 50 to 100 worst offenders.

“I wasn’t concerned about someone who may have forgotten, or who had a ticket that blew away,’’ Davey said. “I’m focused on folks who had a pattern of ignoring their obligation.’’

At the honor lots, the MBTA’s parking contractors collect the money each day and leave envelopes and notices under the wipers of cars in unpaid spots. The envelopes ask for the fee owed as well as the $1 fine, warn that “failure to pay may result in your car being towed,’’ and say that multiple violations can result in tickets from MBTA Police. Neither tickets nor towing has been used consistently in the past.

T officials could not explain why that was the case. But in the two months that they have been aggressively pursuing violators, they have been distributing stickers and letters threatening to tow, and actually towing those who fail to comply, said Mark E. Boyle, the MBTA’s assistant general manager for development.

“Towing has resulted in what we hoped would be accomplished,’’ Boyle said.

Davey said he would like to see the T charge more than a $1 nonpayment fine — $15 for cars ticketed by the Transit Police — and for it to take more aggressive action sooner. Boston, for example, assesses $25 tickets for expired parking meters. A single ticket unpaid for 90 to 120 days leads to notification of the RMV; five unpaid tickets result in booting, towing, or both, the city’s Transportation Department said.

“It’s something we’re looking at, much as we’re looking at fines for fare evasion,’’ Davey said. “I think that the fines that have been in place are not deterrent enough to encourage the few customers who don’t pay to pay. . . . But the bottom line is, we have to enforce what we have in place, and we haven’t done a good job of that in the past.’’

Davey also hopes to move away from the cash-slot system. Last summer, the T introduced a pay-by-phone system that allows riders to use their credit cards and cellphones to pay. Already, about one-third of parkers use it.

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.