Upon returning to a parking lot, the shock of finding a boot placed on your vehicle is perhaps only eclipsed by the shock of not finding your vehicle at all. Not only are you unable to move your vehicle and asked to pay a fee to a seemingly fabricated company, but the boot acts as a public shaming of your alleged irresponsibility and blatant disregard for the rules. On top of that, booting is a poor remedy for the underlying problem of people leaving their cars in lots for extended periods of time.
Business owners have a legitimate interest in restricting the use of their parking spots to current customers. Parking, particularly in urban areas, can be scarce and business owners want to get maximum use out of the spots they own or are allocated. It therefore makes sense to police those spots to ensure they are only being used by current customers of the establishment. Booting, though, undermines this goal while also generating negative publicity for the business owner.
In many instances, the need for booting arises due to a patchwork system of private parking lots in more urban areas. People want to park and go to multiple stores or walk around, but business owners aren’t interested in opening up their private lots to customers of other businesses. Eliminating this patchwork system by concentrating neighborhood parking in one area would largely solve the underlying problem while opening land to better uses. This solution would require coordination between businesses and local governments, which is more difficult and time-consuming than booting or towing.
Booting Fails to Solve a Real Problem While Also Humiliating People
We’ll put aside the legal arguments that have been made regarding the constitutionality of booting ordinances and just focus on the underlying policy. If the goal is to create parking spaces with high-turnover rates, then immobilizing vehicles seems like a counterproductive practice. A simple ticket or invoice placed on the vehicle would allow vehicle owners to move their cars much more quickly than calling and waiting for a booting company to arrive.
Of course with tickets or invoices, companies would have to deal with actually collecting the levied fees, which may require the added expense of hiring attorneys. Booting, therefore, may help ensure the fees are actually collected since an owner must pay the fee in order to move their car. This may mean that booting is a much stronger deterrent to improper parking than the threat of a fee.
But we shouldn’t overlook the irritation and sense of unfairness or humiliation that comes along with booting. While tickets are small pieces of paper that can be quickly removed, boots act as large scarlet letters requiring owners to wait with their vehicles while others take notice of their irresponsibility. This can cause people to call the police, make a public scene, take future business elsewhere, or leave negative online reviews – four scenarios a reasonable business owner probably doesn’t want.
As opposed to the practice of booting vehicles on private property, tickets related to public parking come with additional safeguards that make them seem more fair. Since parking on public streets is controlled by governments, additional rules and constitutional protections apply. Parking on public streets and lots is generally governed by signage stating the time frames in which cars will be ticketed, though sometimes this signage can be a bit confusing. Tickets also come with the right to be heard in front of a judge prior to paying the fee. Victims of booting on private property have no such protection since they are at the whim of the owner’s terms and conditions – if they want to challenge the booting, they must take it upon themselves to sue the booting company, landowner, or business after paying the fee to remove the boot.
Do Business Owners Want Customers To Be Confused and Angry?
The confusing language that can sometimes be found on signs related to public street parking pales in comparison to the language found on signs related to booting on private property. Atlanta’s booting ordinance stipulates a number of items that must be strictly followed in order to lawfully boot a vehicle. Those include signs posted at all parking lot entrances stating, among other things, the name of the parking company, a statement that unauthorized vehicles may be booted or towed, a phone number, and the $75 fee required to remove a boot.
But the ordinance is silent when it comes to instructing vehicle owners when their cars will be booted. Lots in compliance with the ordinance do have signs with the required statement that “unauthorized” or “illegally parked” cars will be booted. These words are largely meaningless, though, without the definitions of “unauthorized” or “illegal.” Other signs instruct vehicle owners that their cars will be booted if they “leave the premises.” Does this mean your car will be booted if you buy a cup of coffee and then stand on the sidewalk to drink it? Does it mean the car will booted if you park in your friend’s visitor lot, walk down the street to convenience store with them, and then return to your friend’s apartment?
Let’s Fix the Fundamental Problem of Too Many Private Parking Lots
Atlanta is currently debating whether to repeal the booting ordinance. If it’s allowed to stand, several changes should be made. Businesses should be required to post signage specifically stating the terms of their invitation to park in their lots; meaning signs need to say much more than just “unauthorized vehicles” may be booted. Perhaps we should also require vehicle owners to be contacted prior to booting. This could be accomplished by using an app where the vehicle’s owner inputs their arrival time and license plate number. The parking attendant can then send a notification to the vehicle’s owner informing them that their car will be booted at a particular time.
If the entire purpose is to encourage high-turnover of parking spots then business owners should want customers and non-customers to know the rules and be given the opportunity to move their cars prior to booting. Without changes, booting looks much more like a cash-grab operation and much less like a reasonable way of furthering a legitimate purpose. The ultimate solution, though, is to eliminate the patchwork of private parking lots in favor of public parking garages that serve entire commercial areas. This would largely reduce the need for booting altogether.