Parking ticket glitch can result in a $22 surprise


Most of you who drive to Ocean Drive to spend time in our beachside business district already know there’s a two-hour parking limit that will continue to be enforced – from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday – for the remainder of our busy season.

But did you know you can move your car to avoid a parking violation, and still wind up being ticketed?

Turns out the GPS locator used in Vero’s license plate-reading system is not 100-percent accurate.

The result: You can move your car thinking you are complying with the two-hour parking limit, but if you don’t move it more than two or three spaces from its previous spot, there’s a real chance you’re going to get a ticket, anyway.

“It can happen,” Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said last week, when several local residents told Vero Beach 32963 their cars were ticketed, despite having been moved before the allotted two hours had expired.

“If you move your car only one or two spaces – or you drive around the block and then park in the same spot – the system might not recognize the move,” he added. “And in those scenarios, you could get a ticket.”

The problem is not with America’s highly accurate global positioning system. The limits lie in the GPS locator used in the system the city purchased for $22,380 in February 2021.

That’s when Vero replaced the outmoded method of chalking tires to determine how long a car has been parked in a particular space.

Instead of wielding a chalk stick, the police department’s parking enforcement officers patrol the city’s Ocean Drive and downtown business districts in Jeeps equipped with cameras connected to software on a mounted laptop.

Those cameras automatically record images of parked cars, including their license plates and locations, enabling the officers to determine how long vehicles have occupied specific spaces.

If a car is parked beyond the designated time limits – two hours along Ocean Drive, three hours on Cardinal Drive and in downtown Vero – the officers may issue a $22 ticket.

Currey said those tickets will be voided, however, if motorists challenge them and the department’s digital images show the car was moved, albeit to a space too near its original spot for the GPS locator to differentiate between the two. “We have photo time stamps we can check if there’s a complaint, which is something we’ve done since the new system was installed,” the chief said. “If you’ve done what you’ve been asked to do and we’ve made a mistake, we want people to bring it to our attention. We can void tickets, and we do.”

For those wondering: The digital plate-reading system is also used downtown, but Main Street Vero Beach Executive Director Matt Haynes said he has heard no complaints of parking tickets being issued after merchants, workers or customers moved their cars.

When any such complaints are made, Currey said, they’re handled by either the sergeant or lieutenant overseeing the agency’s Parking Enforcement Division, so he was unable to provide estimates for the percentage of tickets challenged and ultimately voided.

He said he is notified only when the division experiences an alarming surge in complaints, which isn’t often.

“I don’t have exact numbers,” Currey said, “but I don’t think we have too many of them.”

Some Ocean Drive-area business employees, however, say they’ve contacted police headquarters to question parking tickets they claim were issued after they had moved their cars, and that they were told the department gets similar calls every day.

“I am disgusted with the system,” said Elizabeth Train, a realtor who works at ONE Sotheby’s International at Sexton Plaza. “We know we have to move our cars, and we do.

But we still get ticketed.”

Train said she has successfully challenged tickets – one alleged violation was voided because digital images taken hours apart showed her front tires were turned in different directions – and will continue to do so.

But she wonders how many people choose to pay the fines rather than endure the hassle of challenging tickets.

Among those people was another ONE Sotheby’s agent, Kristine Gabor, who said she opted to pay the ticket, even though she was parked for only an hour before driving off the island.

She said she returned to the office after the two-hour limit had expired and, apparently, pulled into a space too close to her original spot.

“We experience this a lot because our office in Sexton Plaza, which is very busy during the day and, sometimes when you move your car, the only space available is the one you were in,” Gabor said. “For me, it wasn’t worth fighting a $22 parking ticket. But the police know it’s a problem, and they need to tell people.”

Not even Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno, who lives on the island, was aware of the glitch in the plate-reading system.

“Parking came up at our ‘Coffee with the Mayor’ event this week, but not in that context,” Cotugno said last weekend. “This is the first I’ve heard about it.”

This column is the first time most Vero Beach-area residents are hearing about it. That, too, is troubling, considering the inconvenience endured by motorists who make the effort to abide by the law, only to be ticketed because of a flaw in the system.

At some point during the past couple of years, someone from the city should have issued a public announcement – via news conference, press release or social-media post – informing the community of the situation.

“We did not,” Currey said, adding that the number of complaints hadn’t reached a level of concern to warrant such an announcement.

Currey, though, welcomed the opportunity to publicly discuss the system last week and warn people about its obvious limitation, but he defended its use.

“It’s not a system problem; it’s a GPS problem,” Currey said, adding that his agency had notified the manufacturer. “It’s a technology thing, and hopefully it’ll get ironed out or improved, but we’re not the only ones using it.

“We’re always looking for a better way, but we’re not abandoning this system. The days of walking and chalking are over.”

They should be, given how easy it was to evade parking violations by slightly moving cars forward or backwards to hide chalk marks, or discreetly wiping them away.

Ocean Drive business employees, particularly hotel and restaurant workers, were repeatedly observed doing both to avoid moving their cars to accommodate the time limits – before the city switched to the digital plate-reading system.

And just so you know: The new system is achieving its objectives.

According to Currey, his department had issued 5,832 parking tickets citywide thus far this year. That’s up from 5,303 all of last year, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has spent time in Vero Beach’s business districts since the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic passed.

The county’s population continues to grow. The Vero Beach community continues to see an increasing number of seasonal residents and visitors. The city’s streets, including Ocean Drive, continue to become more crowded.

It’s imperative, then, that police enforce parking time limits to protect local business and prevent beachside workers – or anyone else – from monopolizing precious spaces needed by potential customers.

But if you do park along Ocean Drive this season, you might want to heed Currey’s late-arriving advice.

“When you move your car, make sure it’s more than two spaces away on either side, or even across the street,” he said. “The farther away the better.”

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