A growing number of Chicago motorists say they feel they're being targeted by a city using parking tickets as a way to dig out of financial hole, but the city says the claims are baseless.
Standing at 5'10" tall, Chicagoan Kelly Martin is clearly taller than her Mitsubishi Endeavor. So when she received a $60 ticket from the city for violating an ordinance that prohibits cars over six feet taller being parked within 20 feet of a crosswalk, she assumed it was a mistake.
"I kept looking at it saying, 'What, what, what does this mean?' I literally was like, 'What is going on? Like what is this? And I had to read it 5 or 6 times. I truly did not understand," Martin said.
She contested, citing specifications for her vehicle from the manufacturer website that showed her vehicle stood 5 feet, 9.6 inches tall.
Without explanation, her appeal was denied.
"This is it. The facts are the facts and you cannot deny the facts. I'm sorry, but I am not paying this ticket," Martin told NBC Chicago.
But others hit with this obscure ticket have paid.
Two years ago, around 100 passenger and commercial vehicles were ticketed with the 6-foot/crosswalk violation, generating close to $5,000 in revenue. The next year, those numbers skyrocketed to 501 tickets, at a cost of $27,000 to motorists.
These are numbers that went up as the economy spiraled downward. Coincidence?
In another case, some drivers say they got nailed with expensive tickets for tinted windows, even though the level of tint on their cars is deemed acceptable by the State of Illinois. The city enforced its own ordinance- ignoring the state levels, and raised the ticket amount from $25 to $250 per violation.
And in yet a third case, a group of outraged drivers found the ominous orange ticket on their cars after the city accused them of abandoning their vehicles. The drivers said their cars were parked directly in front of their homes, still covered by some of the snow from the early February blizzard.
"It almost seems like they're a little bit taking advantage of the situation. Looking, you know, for ways to make extra revenue," said one driver.
The city maintains that's not the case.
In fact, said Department of Revenue Ed Walsh, the number of parking tickets is down. He pointed out that 2010 had the fewest number of tickets in 15 years.
Still, Martin said she's not convinced there's no link between her ticket and the city's budget nightmare. She said she's tired of "paying the price" to live in the city and is planning a move to the suburbs next fall.
"If you have to worry about getting a ticket in front of your own home for something you're not doing and then go to these lengths to fight the ticket? It's ridiculous. It's not a fun place to be," she said.
When NBC Chicago asked the city Department of Administrative Hearings to explain why Martin's ticket was upheld even after she submitted proof that her car was less than six feet tall, the ticket was cleared.
Do you even stand a fighting chance to fight a ticket? The city says you do: that last year around 300,000 tickets were contested, and 65 percent of them were cleared.
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