Bellingham could double parking fines, extend public parking time limits

Some parking tickets could soon double, street parking time limits could be extended, and the city might have an easier time towing vehicles that have a handful of unpaid tickets.

For the past year, the Bellingham Transportation Commission has worked to update the city’s parking ordinance, said Eric Johnston, assistant director of public works. City Council will consider approving the updates during its Monday night meeting, Sept. 22.

The updated ordinance would raise parking tickets for meter and overtime violations from $10 to $20, and bump most other infractions up to $30 from $20.

The increased fines would help cover more of the cost of parking enforcement. The bill to produce, collect and administer a citation currently runs the city about $19.69, according to city documents.

Also among the recommended changes is an extension of public street parking from the current 24-hour time limit to a 72-hour limit. Because it could offer more flexibility to those who must park on the street, the change is meant to encourage people to shift from driving by themselves to other forms of transportation like walking, biking or riding the bus, according to council meeting documents.

Another change could allow staff to tow vehicles with four or more unpaid tickets even when it’s legally parked at the time.

“Currently if you have four or more tickets and you’re observed in a violation, we can tow that,” Johnston said. “This says whether it’s parked illegally or not, we can tow it.”

About five years ago The Bellingham Herald reported on then-Mayor Dan Pike’s efforts to address the city’s many scofflaws — people who rack up unpaid tickets and fines, sometimes dozens of them totaling thousands of dollars. At one point in 2009, drivers owed the city about $2 million in fines and fees on unpaid tickets.

The changed rules clarify that vehicles can be removed from the scofflaw list only if fewer than four of the tickets were issued while the current owner was the registered owner, or once all tickets and fines have been paid in full.

Cars that are on the list also could be towed and kept until all fees are paid or the owner gets on an authorized payment plan. That’s different from the current rules, which allow for towed cars to be released when the owner just pays impounding fees, council documents show.

Johnston will present the proposed update to the council’s public works committee at 9 a.m. Monday and recommend the full council approve the updated ordinance during its regular 7 p.m. meeting at city hall, 210 Lottie St.