Smart boots are being introduced by the BPD to Berkeley on October 18. Photos: Tracey Taylor

Parking ticket repeat offenders could be in for a rude surprise after October 18, the date the Berkeley Police Department is introducing the “smart boot”, a wheel-clamping device they say will enable a cheaper, more efficient parking enforcement system, and, ultimately, be more customer friendly for the city’s scofflaws.

The immobilizing boots will replace the current habit of impounding cars whose owners have failed to pay five or more parking tickets which are 30 days old, or older. The City decided to adopt the system in February. Berkeley is only the second city in California to introduce smart boots. Oakland introduced them in November 2009, and they are in use in dozens of cities nationally.

The “smart” part comes in because the boot can be removed by the car’s owner, once they have paid a $140 fine, plus the outstanding money due on the tickets. A call to a 24-hour phone hotline, operated by Paylock, and a credit card payment can, said BPD Lt. Diane Delaney at the smart boot media launch, have a motorist on his or her way in five minutes.

The immobilization notice that will be placed on the windscreen of cars that have been booted

The 16 lb boot — of which the city has 40 — then needs to be returned to Avenue Towing on San Pablo Avenue within 48 hours — a deposit held on the motorist’s credit card acts as the incentive.

Cars that merit a boot will be identified by two roving parking enforcement “booting” vans equipped with infra-red cameras on their roofs. The cameras scan license plates looking for vehicles with outstanding parking citations. Paylock’s Brian Lauducci said officers will do a second check and then place an immobilization notice on the car’s windscreen and affix the boot to the front street-side tire.

Asked what would happen if a motorist could not pay the fine, Lauducci said: “Our operators are trained to do whatever they can to help a person find a way to pay and to defuse a potenitally hostile situation. We understand that it is traumatic to find a boot on your car, but it is a lot worse finding your car has been towed.” The boots work out cheaper than retrieving a car from the pound which costs about $300, excluding parking citation fees.

Those who don’t have a credit card can pay the fines in cash at the Customer Service desk of the Berkeley Finance Department at 1947 Center Street. Cars will be towed after 48 hours if no payments are forthcoming.

In the year to September 28th 2011 the outstanding debt for 1,340 scofflaws was more than $1.5 million. The average owed by a scofflaw for this period was $1,176. Lt Delaney said the new program’s cost would be covered by the fines collected.

For information about the smart boot program, visit the Berkeley Police Department website.

Berkeley parking scofflaws: Beware of the boot [02.07.11]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...