Royal Oak's Parking Ticket Machine

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A parking meter officer writes out tickets in Royal Oak. The city has been issuing about 8,000 a month. photo/Allan Lengel-Deadline Detroit

Darcy Graham Andrews has pretty much given up when it comes to fighting the ticket-writing machine in downtown Royal Oak.

“I probably get at least one a month,” she says. “Sometimes I don’t bother even putting money in the meter if I’m going to be anywhere for any length of time because if I don’t make it out there quick enough there’s a ticket waiting for me within five minutes before I can refill the meter.”

Of the suburban entertainment districts along Woodward Avenue, from Ferndale to Birmingham, popular Royal Oak is king when it comes to issuing parking tickets. It issued 99,150 tickets last year.

That’s an average of 271 tickets a day, 1,906 per week and 8,262 a month.
While it’s difficult to make comparisons, Birmingham gave out 31,844; there were 15,529 in Ferndale and 3,623 in Berkley.

Tickets in Royal Oak range from $10 for an expired meter to $50 for parking along a yellow line to $100 for illegally parking in a handicap spot.

Folks like Andrews simply figure it’s easier to get a ticket than continually run outside to feed the meter. She says she pays the $10 ticket right away, and saves money that way. If she waits more than a few days, the penalty jumps to $25.

“I’d prefer it was not like that,” she says. “I guess it’s just a fact of life for me now.”
For a city, which has had to dip into its surplus in recent years to stay in the black, it bolsters the bottom line.

In recent years, Royal Oak has become one of the premiere entertainment districts in the Metro area. That means more business, more motorists, more aggressive ticketing and more revenue. 

“It’s one more source of revenue,” says Royal Oak City Manager Don Johnson. “With everything falling off, it helps.”

In this case, it’s more than a little bit.

In the last fiscal year, ending June 30, 2011, the city raked in more than a $1 million in revenue from parking tickets, contributing to the city’s $31.4 million general fund.

Of course, it costs something to run the operation.

For that year, the city spent $176,965 to pay for about 10 part-time meter officers, who are listed as civilian employees for the police department, according to the city’s Finance Department.

For the parking meter officers, giving out tickets is, as the old saying goes, like shooting fish in a barrel.

Around 5 p.m. on a recent weekday, an officer wrote out about eight tickets in a half an hour.

No one came out while he was writing it to give him grief.

City Manager Johnson says driver occasionally get angry at the meter officers, but nothing serious has happened. He receives few complaints.

He said the most common complaint is from people who get a ticket for backing up into a parking spot in the lots behind the stores. He said some people don’t understand why that’s a regulation. Johnson said it’s because motorists can damage the meters or other cars when they back in.

Even when people don't complain to city hall, some are clearly annoyed.
Someone named "buzzsaw" wrote on the website "The Royal Oak Forum" back in February:

"So on a lazy Saturday night - I decide to get some Comet Burger. I call ahead and order - knew it would only take minutes for them to prepare. I park in the back and look around for the parking police - see nothing ... knowning I am only going in to pop in for a hot second to grab my order and pay I don't feed the meter leave the car running and lock the door. Well guess what Are you kidding me ? What did they hawkeye and watch me park and not pay? I mean for the amount of time I was in there I am surprised I didnt catch them in the act ! Ridiculous. Where is the curbside/carryout only parking when you need it. Damn ticket is gonna cost me more than my meal. "

Stephanie Wong, a Ferndale resident and former Royal Oak resident says she’s received around five tickets in the past half year, the most recent one being just a few days ago.

She said she was having a drink with friends and her boss at night at Red Fox on Main Street and had fed the meter for three hours.

“I paid for three hours and when I came out 10 minutes late and the meter was expired, I already had a ticket.

“Obviously I was pissed off,” she said.

Do the tickets make her think twice about coming to downtown Royal Oak?
“I guess it doesn’t discourage me from going there, but it really is frustrating.”

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