Parking Enforcement

Parking Enforcement, Generally

Anyone that has driven a car into a busy metropolitan area knows what the stress of finding a parking spot feels like. What causes this universal feeling of anxiety? It is a combination of a number of concerns. The first being that we might be late to our destination if we spend an inordinate amount of time looking for an appropriate place to leave our car while we go about our business. It’s a shame, we think, that automobiles are not sold with mobile parking spaces just for us. Another reason that we all get stressed when searching for a public parking spot is because we fear that if we do it wrong, there will be punishment, in one form or another. The punishment most common is a ticket, a nominal fee to be paid to the municipality or city. Occasionally, as we all know, if we have numerous outstanding tickets or have parked in a designated zone, our automobile will be towed and impounded and we must pay significantly higher amounts to reclaim our own private property. Less common punishments, such as having a “boot” placed on a tire also can dissuade the public from making rash parking decisions.

So why do these punishments affect the public so much so that a reasonable person would heed them and even feel anxious while attempting to find a public parking space? It is likely because, as a population, there has been some form of conditioned behavior negatively reinforced by our experiences when we “incorrectly” park our automobiles on public streets.[1] For negative reinforcement to be effective it needs to be consistent and foreseeable (predictable).[2] Anyone that regularly travels into metropolitan areas knows, with near-certainty, that if they abandon their car in the middle of the street it will be towed likely within thirty or forty-five minutes. Getting towed is a terrible experience that they would not like to repeat. We also not only anticipate but expect to get a ticket for somewhere in the range of ten and fifty dollars if we don’t put money in a parking meter. Though a ten-dollar ticket is manageable for a large portion of the population, it is still an inconvenience that we’d rather avoid.  Through consistent enforcement the American population is aware of the consequences of failing to park their automobiles in an appropriate spot, and thus the enforcement is reasonably effective at deterring problem parking.

Enforcement Inconsistencies

So how does parking enforcement vary for different types of vehicles? To begin, it is less consistent.[3] Laws and ordinances regulating bicycles are often more difficult to enforce because they can be confusing and unintuitive. For example, bikes might be permitted to ride on a roadway just outside of a city, but once a rider crosses an imaginary threshold into a certain it must be on the sidewalk.  Enforcement agents have understandable difficulty applying these laws consistently to all riders.

What then, are cities and municipalities to do with an emerging technology such as E-scooters? Municipalities that clearly have a desire to integrate E-scooters into their transportation system are having exceptional difficulty in applying consistent enforcement. However, uncertain and inconsistent means of proper use enforcement can lead to misuse of the scooters that can endanger both riders, pedestrians, and other travelers. Cities and municipalities that want to allow companies like Bird and Lime operate within their limits need enforcement solutions that will effective. To that end, the enforcement needs to be foreseeable and consistent.

Who will enforce and how?

The first question that arises when considering enforcement is “who will be doing the enforcing?” Typically, enforcement is the sole responsibility of the localities. Cities distribute parking tickets and track repeat offenders. E-scooters (and all bikeshares) are somewhat unique because they are the property of the company, not the individual user. Because of this factor, repossession of a scooter is not an effective means of enforcement against the end-user if the aim is to prevent misuse. Though ticketing is still a viable method of enforcement, the cities are unable to utilize one of the more extreme measures of enforcement – impounding or towing – without drawing the ire of the companies. With that in mind, there may be more creative means of enforcement outside of traditional that can shift the burden off the localities.


Localities are familiar with ticketing and licensing procedures for vehicles used within their geographic limits and will likely have to adapt those procedures for E-scooters. The biggest issue regarding enforcement by localities is consistent application of the laws. Numerous localities have had trouble training police officers in the proper laws and ticketing procedure for bikes on public roadways, let alone E-scooters. As stated above, for enforcement to be effective it must be consistent. This naturally entails having a well-trained police force that knows when and how to ticket. When E-scooters were “guerilla-style” implemented almost every locality was not equipped to deal with misuse because they had never seen anything like it before. For example, in San Diego police were so overwhelmed that they had exhausted their ticket books and yet a significant number of scooters were still being used in inappropriate places. Police officers need to be adequately trained and prepared to deal with the sudden influx of new scooters, and hopefully officers’ burden will be eased by restrictions on the number of scooters permitted. (See Pilot Programs)

Localities – Possible Solutions

One problem noted is that in some localities there simply are not enough officers to consistently enforce the local ordinances. Some cities benefit from having supplemental enforcement agents, like parking services, to ease the burden on officers. Further, localities could consider requiring each individual scooter have some sort of identifier attached to it so that when a rider is no longer present, but an infraction has nonetheless occurred (say if the scooter was left in an inappropriate place), they could request the personal information of the last user of the scooter and ticket them appropriately. This would likely take an inordinate amount of time and require significant manpower to keep up with sending the requests to the companies and then also sending the tickets to the offenders. It would also give rise to data sharing issues and likely require the enforcing agency to create a new position, at a considerable cost, just to keep up with the requests.

A likelier solution is that localities forego fining the individual users for misuse and instead simply cite the companies for each infraction observed by a police officer or parking attendant. This would incentivize companies to encourage proper use and also leans more towards a private contracting approach to enforcement that circumvents the need for a new department or position dedicated solely to ticketing. (See Safety)

Companies – Possible Solutions

One method would be self-regulation by scooter companies using a few different methods. Another option is to allow reporting, either by users or non-users, of any misuse of a scooter. If scooters were required to have identifying tags on them anyone could report misuse. This “crowd-sourced” method is likely best utilized when a user discovers that a scooter has been left in any unsanctioned location. That user can then just report that the scooter was inappropriately left somewhere, and the company can take appropriate action against he offending user. This will likely only be applicable to misplacement issues, as many more issues arise if users try to enforce speed limits, rights of way, and so on, via reporting.

Another proposal is that scooter companies self-enforce by using technology such as geofencing and punish the user appropriately. Geofencing would, ideally, prevent misuse in predetermined areas using hardcoded software that detects misuse as it’s occurring. (More about geofencing here.) However, scooter companies have contended that geofencing is much easier said than done. Some contend that geofencing is currently incapable of distinguishing very fine differences in areas, like determining whether a scooter is on the sidewalk or on the street that the sidewalk runs parallel to. However, geofencing could be used to protect large areas where scooters can be forbidden but hard-coding an autonomous shutdown of the vehicle could be dangerous, especially if the software mistakenly places an individual in the protected area. Suggestions around this issue include collecting data from individual rides and transmitting that data to the scooter companies. The companies could then simply warn or fine the user if the data shows that the scooter had ventured into a protected area. (See Data Sharing and Privacy).  

The most likely enforcement measure that companies will have to take is to software-prohibit exceeding the speed limit of localities. This will also likely be a condition of permitting the companies to do business in many localities. (See Permitting) This also leans towards a more “private contracting” approach to enforcement versus a “public enforcement” approach.


For almost every locality the burden will likely fall partially on the locality itself and partially on the company seeking to do business there. As with many different issues that arise with E-scooters, there are no “one-size fits all” solutions. Localities will have to carefully consider their current parking and vehicle enforcement strategies to ensure they are not overburdened by the arrival of E-scooters.  Companies, while able to assist in enforcement in some capacity, are not able to totally prevent misuse via advanced technology. In any event, localities still have some creative options at their disposal that other localities may have put into effect or they can test out in pilot programs of their own. (See Pilot Programs).


[1] Behavior Modification: Practices and Principles, Raymond G. Miltenberger at 114. (“A parking ticket or a speeding ticket is associated with with the loss of money (paying a fine), so the ticket is a conditioned punisher for many people.”).

[2] Using Reinforcements for Effective Disciplines, Liberty University Faculty Publications and Presentations, page 13, 2011 (noting in an education setting that “[r]einforcements must be implemented fairly. Consistent reinforcement is important for teachers.” and “Reinforcements must be implemented immediately. For rewards and consequences to be effective, they must be given immediately following the positive or negative actions.”).

[3] Police enforcement up on motorists, down on cyclists, pedestrians, potheads, skateboarders, Stu Bykofsky, The Inquirer (Noting “Police crackdowns against bad motorists increased last year in Philadelphia, while pedestrian and bicycle enforcement declined.” The article also notes that enforcement against illegal bicycle behavior is “almost nonexistent.”).