By on October 31, 2011

Residents of Austin, Texas may soon have the power to issue parking tickets by taking a few photographs of someone else’s car with their smartphones. A unanimous council voted on October 20 to explore the concept of deputizing vigilante meter maids using an iPhone app. Disabled advocates pushed the program at the council meeting in the hopes of guaranteeing easier parking. They were joined by others who were just interested in writing the $511 tickets.

“I am a community policer from way back,” one resident said at the meeting. “I’m also one of the first code compliance volunteers in my neighborhood… Low income people like me can’t even afford a cell phone, so I think if you’re going to allow this you should also expand this ordinance to include the ability of the police department and code compliance to purchase smartphones for their volunteers.”

Councilman Kathie Tovo noted a number of volunteers had already emailed looking to join the program. Under Texas Transportation Code Section 681.0101, cities may deputize volunteer meter maids who swear an oath after taking a four-hour class before they can start ticketing.

“I can’t help but think that there’s some solution that does involve the use of smartphone technology putting those powers in the hands of citizens and enabling them to help the city extend its reach to do a better job of enforcing handicapped parking restrictions,” Councilman Chris Riley said.

The non-profit group Parking Mobility, created by George Soros-funded organizations, created the Android, Blackberry and iPhone parking ticket app which encourages cities to adopt the program because they can “generate revenue.” The system requires a person take three photographs of the alleged violator — one of the license plate, one of the windshield and one showing the car and the handicapped parking sign. The software sends the photos and the GPS location to the city so it can issue the expensive ticket.

“There’s really no better enforcement tool than our citizens policing themselves,” Councilman Mike Martinez said. “I think the merits of this program deserve our support.”

The council ordered the city manager to create a report on the feasibility of the program within ninety days.


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15 Comments on “Austin, Texas Explores Smartphone App For “Vigilante Meter Maids”...”

  • avatar

    Ah yes, the miracle of technology continues. Part of DHS See Something, Say Something with a cash register ring to it.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Orwell had the Junior Spies, which ones are these?

  • avatar

    This would be a great way to keep people from parking in bike lanes.

  • avatar

    A way to raise much needed revenue without paying for additional meter maids.

    I don’t agree with it but you gotta admit its kinda clever in a 1984ish way.

  • avatar

    And a 511 dollar ticket is proper. Not. I would park a heap of junk there just to watch them tow it away, no tags and the VIN removed.

    Why not make all tickets 10,000 dollars and wipe out municipal debt once and for all?

    “so I think if you’re going to allow this you should also expand this ordinance to include the ability of the police department and code compliance to purchase smartphones for their volunteers.”

    And I think they can buy their own smartphone to talk on and watch videos all day long. Just make sure they don’t park too long in front of the Apple store.

    • 0 avatar

      Aren’t you ever indignant at people who park in handicapped spots when they don’t need them? Although it’s not all that clear, that’s what this article is actually about.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t see this being limited to Handicap parking, which BTW is abused regularly. Cell phone shots would probably not capture the able bodied walking away from their car at the right moment.

        But I’m all for limited this tattle tale project to Handicap parking only. Run it by them and see if they agree.

    • 0 avatar

      I have always advocated that the fine for illegal use of handicapped parking should be $1000.

      It is not because I believe that is a “fair” amount commensurate with the “crime” but because I want it to be a DETERRENT so miserable, lazy bastards who think that because they’ll “only be a few minutes” it is OK to go ahead and park there while I’m driving around the block a dozen times trying to find somewhere I can park my gas guzzling full size van with room to deploy my wheelchair lift.

      The fine has to be big enough that the “well, it’s only a few dollars and I most likely won’t get caught anyway” changes to “shit, I’m not going to risk $1000, I’d better not park here”.

  • avatar

    The thing with Austin is that there is NO parking. Rather, not enough for the people who live here, work here and visit here to go downtown-ish without the whole experience ending in gunplay. On any given weekend it’s a game of roulette to find a spot. On event weekends – SXSW, UT game day, ACL Fest, Pecan St. Fest, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Marathon, Fantastic Fest, WizardCon, NAMM, F1, Austin Film Festival, ie 90% of the weekends, you’re better off just staying home. There’s no public transportation to speak of so yo’re either going to pay to park on a lot and get broken into, or park in the suburbs and bring a bike to ride the rest of the way into town.

    But if you DO find a spot, chances are there’s a handy kiosk where you can use your credit card to buy the maximum amount of parking available, slap a sticker in the window, and forget about it. It’s timestamped so no chance of someone ticketing you because of a bum/broken meter, no hassle of finding change. If you can find one of these you’re golden. If you get a ticket you literally have no excuse.

    Still, in this city where half the street parking requires you to live in the neighborhood and have a decal, or University parking where you have to have a decal, or valet parking, or blocked special event parking surrounding every venue or hotel, or prohibited parking along the parade route (cause there’s always a parade), or prohibited parking on a street where windows are falling out of the high rise because the adhesive is melting in the 115 degree heat, the City would better serve its residents and visitors by making more spots available, or better yet convert a few of those single-level pay lots, of which there are dozens, into multi-story parking garages, rather than trying to generate more revenue through penalties and fines. Otherwise you’ll just continue to give folks substantial reasons to not even bother with spending money in the city, given that it’s too much trouble to actually go there.

  • avatar

    Some of the numbers that boggle the mind…
    $511 parking tickets? Really?
    “purchase smartphones for the poor” at $200-$300 each? And the $70-$80 a month to run the smarthphone?
    George Soros paid for the “apps” – he can pay for the phones and the monthly charges too.
    This all sounds “feasible” with his bank account.

  • avatar

    I believe the $511 parking tickets are for parking in handicapped spots, no? From the original Newspaper article ” The system requires a person take three photographs of the alleged violator — one of the license plate, one of the windshield and one showing the car and the handicapped parking sign.”

    If the parking situation is really how Chairman Kaga described, I can imagine that Austin might have a problem with a rash of Mays and Clarksons parking in handicapped spots.

    Although, I could easily see this program being expanded to non-handicapped parking… and bike lanes.

    • 0 avatar

      And people riding around looking for any violation they can think of. Of course due process will be followed (Ha!) and these deputized, government agents with free cell phones are on par with policemen.

      They better include health insurance for the happy warriors since it could get ugly, especially in Texas.

  • avatar

    This is the worst idea I’ve read in months. WAY too easy to abuse. Wait, that needs to be WAAAAAYY too easy to abuse. Pick the colour and model of rental car the Mayor of your city also drives. Year might not matter based on the refreshes. Will the reviewer of the pictures be trained to recognize that a taillight doesn’t match for the model?

    I’m okay but still very amateur at my photo-shop skills. The picture of the plate could be anything if you close crop the picture enough. Photoshop a handicap sign poking up behind the car and viola! Instant $500! So many legal issues regarding the submission and privacy rights. Petty grudges against your neighbors… uh oh.

  • avatar

    Kathie Tovo ran for office on the premise of stopping the new F1 track in Austin. She failed to stop it and construction continues.

  • avatar

    So, why not swap red light cameras for people with smart phones?

    RLCs are less arbitrary, issue a smaller fine (in TX, it’s $75), & less prone to manipulation. But they are subject to profiteering by private companies.

    But if people get free phones out of this deal, then I guess profiteering is alive & well for this program, too.

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