In an effort to save money and streamline its parking fee collection process, the city of Berkeley is set to implement a new vehicle immobilization “booting” program for cars that would otherwise be towed.
The program, which will be implemented in two weeks, will remove the hassle of towing by instead allowing police officers to attach a boot lock, called a “SmartBoot,” to any vehicle that has a record of five or more unpaid parking violations. The owners of the vehicles will have to call PayLock, the company that provides the device, and pay their debts electronically in order to get the boot removed.
“Currently, if you had your car towed, it would begin at $300 — now it is only $140 to PayLock,” said Lt. Diane Delaney, traffic bureau commander for the Berkeley Police Department. “The idea here is to give people access to the car and the ability to take care of it almost instantly, if they’re able.”
Delaney added that this new program, which was approved by the Berkeley City Council in February, will help the city efficiently recover the outstanding debt from citation violators, since drivers must pay off all their debt to access their vehicles.
“In the past year — September 2010 to 2011 — there were 1,300 vehicles that were eligible to be towed,” she said. “Together, there is more than $1.5 million in (unpaid) debt, and the average owed for each vehicle is almost $1,200.”
After a vehicle is immobilized, a notice on a booted vehicle’s windshield will inform the driver of the multiple offenses and provide PayLock’s phone number. The driver, after settling his or her debts over the phone, receives a numeric code to unlock the device and then has to drop the “SmartBoot” off at a return station within 24 hours.
To help police identify frequently offending vehicles, PayLock will also provide license plate recognition systems — which use instantaneous, Web-based, laser-sight technology — that can read license plates from police cars moving up to 30 miles per hour, according to Delaney.
Cory Marchasin, president of PayLock, explained that the company’s idea is to implement a straightforward process that is time-efficient and more effective than the traditional city method of sending continuous notices to citation violators’ houses.
“We provide municipalities with the patented devices, the license plate recognition system and the 24-hour customer service center,” he said. “We will help you any day. It’s the type of stuff that’s just not going to happen at a cashier window.”
BPD held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to explain the program and demonstrate the application of the new technology.
“What we really want is to get the word out within the next two weeks, to encourage people to pay the tickets,” Delaney said. “We’re hoping that people who think or know they are violators will get their debt paid off now and become more careful and responsible.”