Stu Bykofsky: Parking Authority should listen to public horror stories

Posted: October 19, 2010

TWO WEEKS before Halloween, the People's Choice Movement Coalition went trick-or-treating at the Berean Institute, 19th and Girard.

It was Saturday, it was a town meeting, and the Grand Goblin was the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the most ruthlessly efficient (albeit sometimes errant) arm of government.

Organized by People's Choice - a grass-roots community-organizing group - the town meeting was a Gripe-O-Rama for anyone feeling abused by the PPA, which was described by WURD (900-AM) host Manwell Glenn as Satan's workshop in Philadelphia.

People's Choice organizer Lawrence Clark - who is familiar with the Byzantine workings of the PPA and the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, which hears appeals - said testimony was being taken with the idea of filing a federal lawsuit because of the lack of due process.

Complaints ran from the mundane - kiosks that don't work and bewildering parking signage - to the outrageous - cars that are towed into PPA's lots and vanish forever.

The two-hour session - a follow-up to a March protest outside the Filbert Street offices of the PPA and the BAA - managed to hear only 18 people. The informal testimony came from many motorists, plus tow-truck operator Lew Blum and attorney Don Vittorelli, who specializes in traffic and parking cases.

As average citizens related their horror stories at the microphone, it was enough to make you sick. If you take them at their word, and most of them I do, there were accusations of a mistake made by PPA that it didn't want to admit, or a minor violation that escalated into something vastly more complicated and expensive.

Clark complained that car owners, who may owe many thousands of dollars, have to pay most of it before their cars are released.

The PPA's Linda Miller told me yesterday that if you request a hearing, the BAA examiner can work out time payments and can set the bar for a minimum down payment.

In one outrageous story, Northeast resident Florence Grazella, 51, said the PPA "jacked my car" and then sold it.

Her car was towed supposedly because she was uninsured, and for unpaid tickets, she said. But her car was insured, she insisted, and some of the accumulated tickets dated back to seven years before she bought the car.

Similarly, Ann Washington, 67, of Nicetown, said "my car was stolen from in front of my door" by PPA on April 17, 2000. It also had a record of tickets dating back to before her purchase.

She spoke with politicians, the PPA and police but her car, 10 years later, is still missing.

On a lesser, but still annoying note, Bucks County resident Kevin Corrigan, 54, reported trying to use a parking kiosk at Head House, which wouldn't take his money. His vehicle got ticketed and when he received notice in the mail, he checked the box saying he wanted a hearing.

Instead of a hearing, he keeps getting ever-larger bills from PPA.

The PPA is big and big entities make mistakes. PPA has admitted a few in the past. I've done almost 10 columns on problems with the PPA or BAA in the past two years. I could have done 20.

Here's an idea, if the board that supervises PPA has the courage: Don flak jackets and hold meetings in several Philadelphia neighborhoods to hear complaints firsthand instead of through bureaucratic filters or the press.

Such hearings might be better than the planned People's Choice award - a federal lawsuit.

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. This column usually appears Mondays and Thursdays. For recent columns: http://go.philly. com/byko.

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