Ethics in Action - Imposed Fees and Fines

Austin, TX

City of Austin, TX

Changing the way government works to support its community is essential to building equity and confidence in a city. As described in GFOA’s recent research report, “Financial Policies for Imposed Fees, Fines, and Asset Forfeitures,” fines levied by local governments often have a disproportionate negative effect on lower-income members of the community and can often decrease the public’s trust in local government.  More and more local governments are realizing this and revising their policies to address these concerns.  A recent example comes from the City of Austin, Texas.

The Austin Transportation Department (ATD) simplified the on-street parking experience in the Texas capital.  Recognizing that factors outside of a driver’s control often require parking for longer than the posted time limit, ATD abolished short-term parking time limits.  Previously, in some zones there was a limit for how long a car could be parked on the street. Depending on the zone, this limit was three hours or five hours.  If your car was parked on the street beyond these limits, the City of Austin could issue a $40 citation.

For example, before these changes, if you parked in a three-hour zone for four hours, you might have to pay as much as $46, including the parking fee and the $40 fine.  Under the new policy, though, parking for four hours in the same zone would only cost you $10.50—only the fee for the street parking spot, no fines.

The City of Austin recognizes the disproportionate impact that fines like this can have on residents.

“We believe that managing parking sessions by price, not time will incentivize parking space turnover, while providing our customers greater choice and flexibility based on their individual needs,” said Rob Spillar, Director of Austin Transportation Department.  “Although a parking ticket is a civil violation, it’s an entry point into the court system that can be avoided under this changed parking management strategy.  At the end of the day, our goal is parking space turnover and transportation system efficiency, not tickets.”