Software Helps Companies Void Invalid Tickets
Sep. 26, 1995
Everybody has a New York parking story.
It was only a matter of time before someone figured out a way to make the endings happy _ or at least cheaper.
Glen Bolofsky, a 39-year-old former accountant, has designed computer software that uncovers mistakes in parking tickets. His clients are companies, and he guarantees to get at least half of their tickets tossed out of court.
This is no small feat in a city that issues almost 10 million tickets a year, a third of which are slapped on trucks and other commercial vehicles trying to make deliveries on the city's car-choked streets. Last year, tickets pumped $306 million into city coffers.
``The only people who hate me are the budgeteers,'' says Mr. Bolofsky, president of Parking Survival Experts and publisher of ``How to Beat a Parking Ticket.''
Here's how the Bolofsky software, called Alarm, works:
The computer scans information entered from the ticket, looking for mistakes that would invalidate it, such as the officer incorrectly writing down the vehicle's license-plate number, model or registration expiration date. If an invalidating error is found, the software prints out a customized letter to the city's Parking Violations Bureau, citing the relevant statutes and reasons why the ticket should be dismissed. The program also warns users to take care of their tickets by a particular date, after which the city sheriff or marshal can lawfully tow the vehicle.
The Alarm software costs $450 for a fleet of three vehicles and $100 for each additional vehicle.
Mr. Bolofsky says his crusade got started in December 1980 when he found himself shivering on the street at 7:30 a.m., ready to move his car to conform with New York's ``alternate side of the street parking rules.'' But the rules, enacted to clear streets for sweepers, were suspended that day because of a Catholic holiday. Three years later, Mr. Bolofsky published the ``New York City Alternate Side of the Street Parking Calendar''; the current edition lists 153 days vehicles don't have to switch sides. He developed the software to fight parking tickets in 1993.
One parking rule that makes Mr. Bolofsky's blood pressure soar: If a truck has outstanding tickets, the city can tow away any vehicle in the company's fleet, ``even if it's a brand-new vehicle with no tickets on it.''
He adds: ``Is that insane or what?''
Since creating the software, Mr. Bolofsky says nearly 300 companies are using it, generating annual revenue of $200,000 for his firm. His plan is to tailor Alarm to cities around the country with high volumes of summonses. Washington is his next target; last year, ticket writers generated nearly $50 million for the District of Columbia's treasury.
Selwyn Lempert, general manager of Nick Penachio Co., one of New York's largest food brokers, says the 10 Penachio trucks that deliver to such midtown restaurants as Sardi's and Le Cirque, have been hit with $30,000 a year in tickets. Since buying the software, Mr. Lempert says, the company's ticket dismissals have saved it $10,000.
``If I could find another way to do business without Manhattan, I would love to do it,'' says Mr. Lempert, who oversees a fleet of 145 vehicles. ``I have trucks that come back with two and three tickets a day. . . . The city is trying to put its hands in our pockets rather than spending the time to try and work with us.''
New York officials dispute this and the often-heard accusation that there is a daily quota for ticket agents, who issue 27,000 tickets a day. Eamon Moynihan, a spokesman for the Parking Violations Bureau, says the city's mission is to keep traffic moving and enhance public safety, not fill municipal budget gaps.
``The number of tickets being issued now is lower,'' says Mr. Moynihan, citing the 13.9 million tickets issued in 1992 during the previous administration. ``The focus of our attention now is to get our people to write the tickets more accurately.''
As for Mr. Bolofsky beating the city out of much-valued money, Mr. Moynihan says: ``We will just have to write better tickets.''