1. Is there stepped-up enforcement?

As Sarah Palin would say, "You betcha!" Today's "Big City" maxim seems to be, "We can tax a few people and take a little money, or tax a lot of people for a little bit of money and collect much more." Why is there "stepped-up" enforcement? Safety? Yes, certainly. However, ever more the answer is tending towards CA$H. More and more cash-strapped cities have over the course of time begun to rely more heavily on parking citation revenues to fill their general fund coffers. In addition, while increased enforcement always has a "utilitarian" bent – public safely, the fact is that all too often the "safety" component disguises "stepped-up" enforcement coordinated and unleashed upon on an unsuspecting public. Please understand I am not talking about flagrant dangerous parking in red zones and fire zones. Most citations are issued because motorists are distracted, or simply negligent in reading the signs when they park their cars.

2. How many traffic tickets are issued in an average "big' city in a given month?

Depends on the city. On any given day in any large American metropolitan city, I doubt 50,000 people get up in the morning, open the curtains, and say, "Today I am going to be a scofflaw! Today I want to break any and all the traffic laws that I can!" On the contrary, they get up and say, "I have to get the kids to school," or "I have to get to work" and the last thing on their minds is the thought that they are going to get a citation.

One estimate was that across California in 2009 the courts retained one billion dollars in fines and forfeitures from all traffic citations that remained uncontested! (This was inclusive of both moving as well as parking violations).

This amount is significant if you consider that a billion dollars could have been refunded to motorists had they merely pursued their available legal contest remedies. Many motorists are simply too intimidated by the process, or do not know what to do or say. Parking tickets indicate that the citation fine amount will double if not paid in full within 21 days of issuance, and in the case of moving violations; bench warrants can be issued if motorists miss a court date and do not pay the fines.

The percentage of people who contest citations is in the region of 3% of all issued citations, on average. Most people don't contest – they just pay.

3. What is an average day like for a traffic officer like?

As part of my "training" program for one city I worked for, I volunteered to accompany a Traffic Officer as she completed her beat in her designated area. The early-morning air was still damp with dew as we climbed into the official "parking patrol" vehicle and drove to an area of town where the "No Parking Street Cleaning" signs showed that parking was restricted between "8AM – 10AM" for street cleaning.

"Watch this," she said, and leaving me sitting in the parked vehicle with the engine running, she proceeded down the street with her hand-held ticket-issuing computerized machine at the ready. There was a row of parked cars as far as the eye could see. They were supposed to have been moved to the opposite side of the street.

I looked up at the sign, and yes, there were four signs attached to that pole, warning of this, that and the other. I glanced at my watch, and the restriction had now been in effect for the past three (3) minutes. The air was cold, and as I breathed out it left a trail of mist in front of me. As I peered ahead at the line of cars whose owners had ignored the posted warning signs seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. The officer methodically printed and placed the citation under the windshield of each one she walked by.

Suddenly, the traffic officer ran back to the car, flung the hand-held computer onto the back seat, sat down and kicked the vehicle into drive with one fluid motion. Tires screeched. A muffled yelling grew louder and louder.

A man was running down the street in his robe and slippers as fast as his legs could carry him. His face was half-covered in shaving foam, and in one hand held high, he held a crumpled piece of paper, which I recognized to be the parking citation, apparently, one of those newly minted and just placed on his vehicle. Out of his mouth came forth a string in invective that I could not republish for fear that the laws against obscenity would kick in immediately. He threw the crumpled paper at the rapidly retreating officer's official vehicle, and one slipper followed the other. They missed the vehicle.

Her timing was excellent. It seemed that if she had not driven off when she had, the motorist would have challenged her in what could have been an ugly confrontation. As it was, it seemed he almost caught up to the vehicle, for it seemed he had the stamina of an endurance runner on steroids! The officer said to me, "When he saw he issue the ticket, he was running out of the house shouting that he was going to move the car. Then he asked me if I met my 'quota,' and I said, 'Yes, you're it!' That made him madder, and then I said, "Go tell it to the judge! I guess that what set really set him off." I wonder what he would have thought if he came to discover one such "judge" was sitting right there in the traffic officer's car that morning, and whom he just missed hitting with his slipper.

This was a crash course into my education and developing hypothesis that most citations are issued to the unsuspecting.

But as we traveled around that day, I felt I was watching a surreal movie in 3-D. "My" traffic officer methodically issued bundles of citations: She issued a citation to a woman who was withdrawing money from an ATM while her vehicle was still parked in the red zone with kids and dogs in the car; issued a citation to a man who was having his beard shaved at a barber shop. "Watch this," she said, "the patrons here don't put money in the meter until I show up. So I drive by real, real slow. . . ." She turned the corner and slowly coasted by the barbershop. Suddenly a group of about five men, all in various stages of completion of their shaving rituals, raced out and ran to their parking meters, jammed coins into their respective parking meters. Then in a strange choreography, they ran back into the barbershop to complete their morning shave.

The traffic officer knew her territory, and was familiar with which streets to drive up and down. Her efforts were most "productive" in terms of yielding maximum concentrations of citations. She was also adept in the techniques of the hand-held ticket-generating computer, and "saved time" by pre-filling certain information fields that would print on all the issued citations, (such as "Vehicle Unattended," or "Posted Signs, No Parking, 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. Street Cleaning.") She could now drive down the street of still-parked vehicles and simply type in the license plate number, add the Vehicle Identification Number (or VIN), and the completed citation emerged in probably a couple of seconds.

No wonder motorists felt that traffic officers possess uncanny abilities, akin to an eagle spotting its prey, such is their ability to spot and issue the citation in a matter of seconds, and leave before the unsuspecting motorist even sees them. The only proof that a traffic officer had swooped by is the envelope left under the windshield wiper, or placed in the crack of a car door jam.

In addition, the sheer number of motorists that "chanced" a citation by just parking where they decided to park for "less than a minute" was amazing to see. On this "training" day for me, one motorist after the other found out that this was not their "lucky" day. They found a reminder from the "Parking Gods" that today their transgression was going to be met with punishment.

I am not for one second advocating that citations are all improperly issued, especially where motorists parked in such places where parking was disallowed, or constituted a traffic hazard to other motorists. Red zones at the end of city blocks are there to ensure that a vehicle rounding the corner has sufficient clearance from parked cars to make the turn, or fire lanes, or in front of fire hydrants, have a direct public safety rationale and motorists who park in such places need to be cited. Motorists need to "buy" their time to park at meters and in parking structures; and remove their vehicles when the posted signs indicate the times that parking restrictions become effective.

Many citations are issued for what many motorists consider minor or somewhat harmless violations that return vast revenues to the cities – specifically for "street cleaning," where motorists complain that the citations were issued when no street cleaning truck even showed up, or on days when it rained. These citations motorists by and large call "unfair," especially the "rainy day" citations when motorists argue street cleaning becomes moot. On the other hand, the city counters that the posted signs warn that parking is restricted during those designated hours, that the restriction is no way dependent on the actual time the street-cleaning vehicle showed up, if at all.

4. Do traffic officers have a parking ticket quota?

Yes and no, although cities claim there are no de facto "quotas," the sheer volume of issued citations is staggering. New York, London, and other large areas are reputed to issue in the region of almost ten MILLION parking citations a year, while "smaller" cities may issue "only" four or five million citations. The numbers are estimates as cities keep the true figures confidential.

What many motorists suspect is that the revenue streams that parking tickets have come to represent for many cash-strapped cities have grown exponentially over the last few years, believing traffic officers redouble their efforts to issue citations at a merciless rate.