In the month of August, the city of Los Angeles handed out 135,219 parking tickets. That may sound like a lot, particularly when fines routinely run more than $70 each. But it’s actually only a few drops in what was once a very large bucket.
In June, 150,106 tickets were given out, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. And back in January of 2020, before the onset of the pandemic, 210,399 tickets were dispensed in city limits.
All told, that’s a 35.7% drop. It also doesn’t appear as if the number of citations stuck on windshields will rebound to pre-coronavirus numbers any time soon. One major reason: The city hasn’t been able to hire enough people to write the tickets.
According to the city Department of Transportation, there is currently a 23% vacancy rate among parking enforcement officers, which works out to about 76 open positions.
The problem isn’t new. At the end of 2019, the department had a 13% vacancy rate. But the number of open positions shot up early in the pandemic, when the city, preparing for a potential massive budget shortfall, enacted a hiring freeze, and pushed an early retirement program for municipal workers.
Now, an improving economy and competitive labor market—witness all those “Now Hiring” signs—makes recruitment all the more difficult, especially for a high-stress job like handing out parking tickets.
Department of Transportation Public Information Director Colin Sweeney said the department only recently began hiring. Since the city’s hiring ban was lifted in September, it has been able to hire only six new officers.
“While vacancies are not distributed equally across all of our divisions, some services are more impacted than others,” Sweeney said. “Such vacancies can limit our capacity to fully support some of the services performed by [traffic officers], such as traffic control at special events or responding to parking complaints and other traffic control priorities.”
The number of parking tickets handed out for infractions that include blocking driveways and fire hydrants has actually been on the decline for several years.
The dip became a swan dive when COVID-19 swept across Los Angeles. With so many people stuck at home, the city relaxed most of its parking regulations in March 2020. The number of citations dispensed each month, which had routinely been over 170,000, slowed to a trickle. In April 2020, fewer than 45,000 parking fines were issued.
With lax enforcement during the lockdown, people left their cars in the same spot for days at a time. Street sweepers weren’t able to get access to the gutters as they usually do. That began to create other urban nuisances, like rising populations of rodents.
In a memo to the City Council last October, the Department of Transportation wrote: “After months without street sweeping, the debris and trash build up around unmoved vehicles creates a public health and safety concern with vermin and rodent infestations.”
The number of parking tickets issued that month shot up to near pre-pandemic levels. But since then they have fallen steeply. It’s unlikely they will rise unless the city can manage to quickly hire new officers.
Don’t park Downtown
When it comes to where one is most likely to get a ticket, there are few surprises. Far more citations have been written in Downtown than any other neighborhood. The 110,460 tickets written there this year easily eclipses the 64,080 handed out in Hollywood. The third most-ticketed neighborhood through Sept. 30 is Westlake, with 44,509.
While fewer tickets are being doled out these days, each ticket remains painful for the person who turns a corner and sees the telltale envelope under their windshield wiper.
Jonathan Peasenelli last got a parking ticket when he overstayed the time limit at a Whole Foods parking lot.
Peasenelli wasn’t happy about it, but he sympathizes with the officers who write tickets.
When you work in parking enforcement, said Peasenelli, “You don’t get people saying, ‘Hey, thank you for the ticket.’” He added, “You get a lot of anger all day long, and that does kind of wear on you.”
How we did it: We examined data from the Department of Transportation on traffic citations issued during the first seven months of 2019 compared to the same time period last year. Learn more about our data here. Or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.