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We’re all familiar with that sinking feeling. You walk back to your parked car after running errands or an afternoon brunch only to find a yellow envelope slipped under your windshield wipers. You could have sworn you read the street signs correctly, kept track of the meter time and parked close enough to the curb. Only this time they got you for street sweeping — one of a million reasons city enforcement loves to hand out parking tickets.

There’s no doubt that parking rules are complex. It’s almost natural that we get them wrong. In fact, confusing parking signs and rules bring in millions of dollars in city revenue each year. Take San Francisco for example — some drivers have reported seeing red no-parking curbs with a parking meter. 😓 What about those signs that read “No parking 2 am – 6 am, except Sundays and holidays,” or the 1-hour pay-to-park sign followed by another that reads “3 1/2 hour parking after 6 pm”? The list goes on and it only gets more confusing.

With millions of parking tickets issued each year, we wanted to find out what parking was really costing drivers. So, we pulled city data records for 16 major cities and surveyed over 1,000 drivers across the country to find out the real impact of parking tickets and what overeager meter maids were really costing drivers in both time and money. In doing so, we unearthed some shocking data that might make you think twice before going over your allotted parking time or skipping meter payment at 5:55 pm. Keep reading to find out what parking really costs you and how to avoid a parking ticket on your next road trip.

parking ticket revenue statistic

What Parking Tickets Cost Drivers

Parking tickets are an important part of city revenue — so big that the 16 major U.S. cities we studied collectively pull in over $1.4 billion in annual parking ticket revenue. We dove into revenue reports and scoured the open datasets of major cities from coast to coast to unearth the real cost of parking tickets, what they bring in annually and how each state stacks up in terms of parking ticket revenue per capita.

For most people, parking tickets are just a nuisance. We begrudgingly accept the $50+ dollar fine, pay it and move on. But if you’ve had to shell out late fees, pay a ticket you deemed unfair or have been dealing with overzealous parking authorities for years, this data might send your blood pressure through the roof.

map of parking ticket revenue

Where Should Parking Ticket Revenue Go?

So where does all this money go? Well, that answer varies from city to city. While the revenue generated from parking tickets is typically thought to go towards a city’s general fund to pay for municipal services and administrative overhead, this still remains a bit of a mystery to many residents. Some cities like Los Angeles are fairly transparent and disclose a wealth of information about their parking ticket operations. Others, like Atlanta, outsource parking enforcement to a private, third-party vendor. In doing so, there’s a bit of uncertainty about where the money goes. In this case, Atlanta has an outstanding parking ticket debt of over $34 million, making many residents question the operations and interests of a third-party vendor.

Regardless of who’s collecting the profit from parking ticket fines, drivers aren’t happy about where it’s going and would rather see that money allocated towards just about anything else. In fact, it’s one of the few issues that Americans can unanimously agree on. We asked drivers if they would feel better paying a parking ticket knowing the revenue would help fund something charitable, and as it turns out, drivers are pretty passionate about money being allocated as such.

Over 42% of drivers preferred their money went towards child education. Another 29% would rather the revenue go towards aid for their city’s homeless population. Other desired uses of the money fell in the categories of charity and city-wide recycling programs.

how parking ticket revenue is spent

Of course, drivers would rather not pay for parking fines at all. For many people, getting a parking ticket is not just an obnoxious expense. Instead, it can be incredibly painful on the pocketbook, especially when parking tickets reach absurd prices across the country — not to mention late fees that accrue if you’re unable to pay. Late fees often turn into additional fines. Drivers unable to pay those fines then get their cars booted or towed, and those unable to pay the accumulation of fines, in addition to impound fees, lose their vehicles.

How Parking Tickets Stack Up

To get a better idea of how parking tickets affect household finances, we asked drivers what the average cost of a parking ticket would cover when it came to weekly and monthly expenses — the findings speak to the absurd cost of parking fines across the country. A single parking ticket offense ranges from $60–240 depending on the rule broken and city.

basic expenses the cost of a parking ticket would cover

Parking Tickets According to Demographics

We’ve all heard of that aunt or uncle who forgot to pay a parking ticket from their college years and the fine somehow circled back to them 20+ years later. Sure, many drivers pay parking tickets on time to avoid the hassle of towing and late fees, but we’ve all angrily taken a ticket off our windshield and tossed it in the glove box — only to forget about it until months later.

Whether it’s forgetfulness or inability to pay the fines, late fees on parking tickets are especially common among 25–34-year-olds. Millennials are most likely to leave a parking ticket unpaid for an extended period of time with 40% neglecting to pay their parking tickets until 60 days have passed, and another 30% saying they wait at least 30 days to pay — accruing one or more late fees.

millennials pay parking tickets late

But forgetfulness isn’t just a characteristic of millennials. New York and Colorado residents are also notorious for accruing late fees, with 22% of drivers waiting at least 30 days to pay their tickets. Meanwhile, Massachusetts drivers had the longest outstanding parking tickets of all the states surveyed — 14% of the drivers said they’ve left at least one parking ticket unpaid for 10+ years. Who could blame them? Especially when the city of Boston boasts an $83 per capita ticket revenue.

longest unpaid parking tickets

6 Most Common Citation Reasons

There are hundreds of reasons to get a parking ticket and each can vary by city, yet there’s a pattern when it comes to the most common parking offenses. City open data sources show that highly trafficked areas with complex regulations correlate with the number of parking tickets — six offenses being especially prevalent. Street sweeping is the most commonly issued ticket, representing 41% of all parking citations from coast to coast. For example, the City of San Francisco issued almost 540,000 street cleaning tickets for a value of $36,718,640.

common parking ticket citations

Here’s What Parking Really Costs You

It’s not just parking tickets that become a costly expense for drivers. Searching for a parking spot and overpaying to make sure you don’t get a ticket breaks the bank too. On average, U.S. drivers spend 17 hours per year searching for a parking spot at a cost of $345 per driver in wasted time, fuel and emissions. Of course, when you focus on the top 10 cities, those numbers skyrocket. New Yorkers spend roughly 107 hours searching for a parking spot and Angelinos average 85 hours of wasted driving time at an individual cost of $1,785 each year.

New Yorkers spend just as much time on vacation as searching for a parking spot

That’s wasted time that would be better spent doing just about anything else. To put it in perspective, we compared the average time spent looking for parking each year to other more productive activities.

  • Dallas drivers spend just as much time searching for parking as the time of an average work week.
  • Drivers in Washington, D.C. could acquire enough flight time to earn a pilot’s license as they do searching for parking.
  • At 107 hours, New Yorkers spend just as much time driving in circles as they do in yearly vacation time.

cost of searching for a parking spot

Let’s face it, many of us are parking ticket paranoid and we’d rather go out to dinner or put that green towards the next tank of gas, so we’re cautious to overpay at meters and parking lots. So cautious, that U.S. drivers spend an annual average of $20 billion in overpayment costs. All that extra time and money spent, and you might just end up getting a ticket anyways if you didn’t read the street signs correctly.

parking ticket facts

For most city dwellers, if you haven’t received a parking ticket in the last six months, chances are you’re not going out enough. That’s understandable — most of us would rather Netflix and chill than try to decipher street signs when there’s a high probability you’ll end up getting a ticket anyway. But if you’re visiting or driving through some of the country’s iconic destinations on a summer road trip, you’ll want to be cognizant of parking ticket hot zones and what you might expect to pay in the unfortunate event you have to pay up.

There’s no doubt that parking can be complex. We hope this study has been helpful to uncover the cost of parking tickets beyond the initial price of the fine and how this impacts you as both a visiting driver and a resident.

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Methodology:

Data was acquired through a survey of 1,000 drivers to discover the following findings: preference for allocation of parking ticket revenue, basic expenses the cost of a parking ticket would cover and the ticket payoff time. Data for ticket revenue and the number of yearly issued parking tickets were pulled from city financial audits, Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports and city open data portals according to the most recent or available fiscal year.

Sources:

United States Census Bureau | INRIX | Los Angeles Open Data | Controller Data LACity | City of New York | NYC Open Data | Pro Republica | City of Houston Texas | Houston Texas Budget | BizJournals | Philly Open Data | CBS Philly | San Antonio Open Data | City of San Antonio | City of San Diego | San Diego Open Data | City of Austin | Austin Open Data | SFMTA | San Francisco Open Data | Spot Angels | Curbed Boston | City of Seattle | Seattle Open Data | CBS 46 | 11Alive | Politifact | Detroit Free Press | City of Columbus