Live and Let Park

As you approach your car, you notice a piece of paper lodged between the windscreen wiper and the glass, and start to tremble. But wait: Perhaps someone left you a note offering to buy your car. Or maybe it's a flier advertising a new car wash in the neighborhood.

You approach your car and your happy musings evaporate. You have been slapped with a parking ticket and your curiosity is now limited to the exact offense and how much it will cost you - more than you want to pay, that's for sure.

Hundreds of thousands of parking tickets are written out each year, for a host of violations. In 2008, a million cars were ticketed in Tel Aviv, 363,000 in Jerusalem and 144,909 in Haifa. No wonder Public Trust, a non-profit organization founded in 2006, has received hundreds of parking issue complaints against the municipalities.

"The complaints we receive are only a drop in the bucket compared to the complaints that reach the local authorities ombudsman, whom people contact to try to get fines canceled," says Galit Avishai, director general of Public Trust, adding that parking troubles are second only to municipal property taxes (arnona) among the complaints levied against the local authorities.

Car owners feel particularly helpless in their struggle against the municipalities over parking solutions, as drivers have no choice but to use whatever is being offered.

One of the biggest problems, especially in Tel Aviv, is the confusing marking of curbside parking. Many streets are marked with blue and white paint along both sides of the street, but each side has different parking rules and there are seldom clear signs indicating during what hours and for how long drivers can park on each side. Public Trust has appealed to the officials in charge to find a reasonable and simple solution to this problem.

"There must be a simple way of marking the curbs so that the parking rules will be clear," says Avishai. "There have already been discussions on the possibility of marking the curbs so that drivers will understand beyond a doubt where they can park and when, without having to look for a sign on the street corner."

In order to advance this issue, Public Trust would like anyone who has been fined for parking in a blue-and-white zone due to misreading the sign or not seeing the sign, to demand the cancellation of the fine, even if the fine has already been paid.

"The only way to get this issue onto the agenda of those responsible is to flood them with demands to cancel the fines and force them to solve the problem."

"The system offers preferred parking to Tel Aviv residents who have a local sticker approved by the Transportation Ministry," explained a city hall spokesperson. "Preferred parking is limited to residential areas where there is a shortage of spaces, and contrary to the arguments raised by some people, there are demands to extend this system to other areas. In order to prevent confusion, the preferred parking side of the street is clearly signposted and includes the parking hours and an illustration of the local parking symbol. Still, the municipality is considering the possibility of marking the curbs in preferred parking areas. In any event, the city is usually considerate of people who have received fines for this type of offense, and if it is the first or second offense, will cancel the fine."

Cellupark costs less

After finding a legal spot to park your car, the next question is how to pay for this pleasure. Cellupark is by far the most convenient and least expensive method in Tel Aviv. In other cities, drivers pay NIS 6.90 per month to subscribe to this service, which you activate and deactivate with a cellular telephone call.

In Tel Aviv subscription is free. Drivers in other cities pay less for PaNGo, the competing cellular parking services company, which has no monthly subscription fees.

Despite the extra expense of user fees, it is hard to ignore the little fringe benefits offered by each company, which can make all the difference. Both companies remind drivers a few minutes before their maximum allotted three hours of parking time is up, so that they can phone in for another three hours if necessary, but PaNGo charges NIS 2.90 for that service, while Cellupark offers it for free. Cellupark also puts a smile on customers' faces by sending them a text message informing them that a parking inspector has checked their car and found it was parked legally, effectively letting customers know they have been saved a fine. PaNGo allows customers to activate the service via text message, without having to make a voice activated phone call (very efficient during a meeting or conference).

EasyPark - limited to 3 hours

Anyone who does not carry a cell phone everywhere and does not need to activate parking service remotely, or who is not interested in paying for the activation and deactivation phone calls, can buy an EasyPark device for NIS 84 (NIS 70 at most Jerusalem outlets) and remember to return to his car after three hours to reactivate the device.

Parking cards also have to be purchased in advance and the main drawback is the cost per hour, even if you park for less time. The cards are available at convenience kiosks and post offices, but the Tel Aviv municipality spokesman says that due to the sale of counterfeit cards, starting in March only post offices will be licensed to sell the cards. There will be no such change in the sales points in other cities.

Parking lots: The last resort

There is no doubt that curbside parking via the various forms of payment is cheaper than driving into a parking lot. Still, sometimes the shortage of street parking in the big cities, especially in Tel Aviv, leaves drivers only one way to avoid tow trucks or parking fines - the parking lot. Thankfully, Orit Noked initiated a law that went into effect January 1, 2009, such that parking lot operators must charge for parking beyond the first hour in 15-minute increments, instead of whole hours.

Despite the expectations that this law would save drivers money, the parking lot owners have tried to outsmart the law by raising the hourly fee for the first hour to compensate for lost revenues on the second hour.

Another way parking lot owners are trying to preserve their revenues is to charge by the quarter hour, at a higher cumulative hourly rate than before the new law came into effect.