Washington, D.C., has one of the worst-run city governments in the nation (see "At Home with Big Government," City Journal, Summer 1993). But there's one thing the District does with stunning efficiency: writing parking tickets. In 1992, District employees wrote 2,122,456 tickets, about four for every man, woman, and child living in Washington. A total of 43,206 cars were booted or towed to impound lots. And the city did this with only 113 full-time ticket writers, each required to fulfill a quota of about 90 tickets a day. Although the average parking control aide made out one ticket every five minutes, some are high achievers: during a single month in 1992, according to Washington City Paper, meter man Tyrone Tucker wrote 3,010 tickets, more than one every three minutes.

Why the zealous enforcement? Parking tickets are a gold mine for the D.C. government. Averaging $20 apiece, Tucker's month of tickets meant potential revenue of more than $60,000. During 1992 the District collected more than $58 million in parking fines—millions more than it raised through its lottery. Federal Express alone paid $1.2 million for D.C. parking tickets

Local politicians long ago realized that such a reliable cash cow was too important to entrust to a sloppy, inefficient local government. Instead, collection of parking fines is farmed out to Lockheed Information Management Services, the company that was at the center of New York City's Parking Violations Bureau bribery and favoritism scandals in the Koch and Dinkins administrations. But the District ignores the question of whether it's appropriate for the government to enforce laws simply to make money. Indeed, less than a month after taking office, Mayor Marion Barry presented his plan for closing the District's budget gap, now estimated at more than $700 million. Prominent among the suggestions: more parking fines.


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next