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By Janie Har July 20, 2013

Does Portland 'break even' enforcing parking regulations?

PolitiFact Oregon suspects there are stages a motorist experiences upon finding a yellow parking ticket envelope stuck to their windshield: Disbelief. Shame. Anger at those meanies at the city trying to squeeze every dime out of you, just to rack up revenue.


Well, Dylan Rivera, a spokesman at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, told the Portland Mercury that "generally we barely break even" in parking enforcement. In other words, the city does not make revenue off errant motorists.

 

A curious reader asked us to find out if that is true. Does revenue collected from parking fines cover the cost of enforcing parking rules? We sent an email to Rivera and to his colleague at PBOT communications, Diane Dulken. They confirmed what was stated in the Portland Mercury.


"It’s a balancing act," said Dulken. "It’s not a cash cow; it’s not intended to raise revenue."


Of course we asked for numbers to back up the claim. Here they are, in millions of dollars::


Year

Revenue

Expenses

Direct Expenses

Indirect Expenses

2009-10

$4.4

$5.5

$3.4

$2.1

2010-11

$5.1

$5.5

$3.4

$2.1

2011-12

$5.6

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$7

$4.2

$2.8

2012-13

$6.6

$8.1

$4.8

$3.3

2013-14

$7.4

$8.7

$5.3

$3.4


You can see that expenses -- including both direct and indirect costs -- outstrip revenue collected. Direct costs are for salaries and equipment. Indirect costs are for overhead, such as phones, office space, public information officers and other administrative costs sprinkled throughout the bureau.


The numbers for 2012-13, the budget year that ended June 30, are estimates. Dulken explained that the numbers increased because the city hired three new enforcement officers last year, bringing the total to 50. We also should remind readers that the city raised fines for some parking violations in February 2013.


The projected numbers for this year exclude revenue and costs associated with a plan for new meters in Northwest Portland.


If you count both indirect and direct expenses, PBOT isn’t breaking even. Instead, it appears the parking enforcement program has been losing money.


(Why even enforce parking rules, you ask? Well, the city does get money from meters, and needs to maintain parking turnover for retailers. Plus, whom do you call when a stranger is blocking your private driveway? PBOT, apparently, is what stands between us and a disorderly parking free-for-all.)


But here’s the deal. Like you, PolitiFact Oregon is highly suspicious. We don’t want to take a government employee’s word for it. We want to know how the budget for parking enforcement is presented to others.


We pored through previous budgets, found online. We learned that the costs of parking enforcement in 2010-11 was $3.4 million; in 2011-12 it was $4.2 million; and in 2009-10 it was $3.4 million. In other words, the budgets use direct costs to convey the cost of the parking enforcement program. Indirect costs are not included.


What’s up with that?


We got on the phone with Rivera, who acknowledged that there are different ways to view costs. But the bottom line, he said,  is that "our impression has been, and this inquiry has confirmed, that we’re not writing citations for the purpose of funding the transportation" bureau.


Fair enough. We adore a reasonable and upfront response from government. Readers now have more information to assess how parking ticket money works in the city of Portland.


There are different ways to look at the statement that ticket revenue matches costs. The city’s share of ticket revenue does not cover the fully loaded costs of providing enforcement services, according to the bureau. On the other hand, ticket revenue does cover the direct salary and equipment costs of writing tickets, according to public budgets.


We’re not in a position to audit the bureau’s books. All we know is that indirect costs are not details readily available to the public. Direct costs are what the public can ferret out when assessing parking enforcement. To us, those are important details missing from a statement that can be accurate looked at one way, not accurate looked at another way.


We rate the statement Half True.

Our Sources

Emails from and interview with Diane Dulken, spokeswoman, Portland Bureau of Transportation, July 11, 17, 2013

Emails from and interview with Dylan Rivera, spokesman, PBOT, July 18-19, 2013

Portland Bureau of Transportation, "Where the Money Comes from …" (web page)

The Oregonian, "Portland parking tickets will increase to $39 in January," Dec. 21, 2011

The Oregonian, "Portland's revenue from parking tickets has grown by 50 percent since 2005," Dec. 22, 2011

The Oregonian, "Some Portland parking tickets climb as Transportation Bureau struggles to raise revenue," Jan. 7, 2013

Portland Mercury, "Free Parking? Nope!" June 26, 2013

Portland Bureau of Transportation, "Requested Budget: 2013-14," February 2013  

City of Portland, "Adopted Budget 2012-13: Portland Bureau of Transportation"

City of Portland, "Adopted Budget Fiscal Year 2011-12"

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Does Portland 'break even' enforcing parking regulations?

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