IMAGE: basil childers
Uncle Sam is a parking deadbeat.
WW has learned that for at least two years, the U.S. Postal Service has regularly parked government vehicles illegally in Portland and ignored the city's attempts to collect tens of thousands of dollars in parking fines.
"This is highly irregular," says Ann Larkin, manager of the city's parking enforcement. "Not in my 24 years with the city have I seen anything like it."
The problem is the USPS University Station at Southwest Broadway and Clay Street. The station has a large parking lot, but city code allows federal vehicles free parking at street meters for as long as the meters' maximum time period (most in that area are 60-minute meters). As soon as that hour is up, it's time to break out the quarters or move the vehicles.
Apparently, Postal Service employees can't tell time.
City parking-enforcement deputies say they have found as many as 18 postal vehicles at expired meters at one time, according to the Portland Office of Transportation. They say some vehicles don't get moved for 24 hours, netting four tickets in a day.
The situation is particularly bad in the morning. Postal vehicles are often parked on the streets at night, when the meters aren't enforced. They should be moved by 9 am, an hour after the meters kick in. But they're not. On Oct. 31, for example, WW counted seven USPS vehicles at expired meters at 9:30 a.m. On Nov. 5, there were a dozen offenders at that hour.
Because Multnomah County Circuit Court, rather than the city, collects parking fines, the city doesn't know exactly how many of its unpaid tickets can be traced to USPS vehicles says it's in the hundreds. (Traffic-court administrators told WW they had no way to determine how many tickets had been issued to mail trucks.)
At WW's request, the Portland Office of Transportation pulled a sample of tickets issued to postal vehicles over the last two years. Of the 104 they found, only four had been paid.
PDOT estimates that 1,400 tickets have been slapped on postal vehicle windshields since 1999, which pencils out to almost $45,000 in unpaid tickets. (An overtime parking ticket runs $16. If not paid within 30 days, the tab doubles to $32). In addition, the city is losing thousands of dollars on meter revenue.
But those numbers mask the real problem. That's because deputies have largely given up writing citations for postal vehicles, knowing the feds won't pay. They are however, keeping an unofficial tally of postal service violations, which now number 4,680 over the past two years. If tickets had been written for each of the violations, the tab could now approach $150,000.
For most parking scofflaws, unpaid tickets eventually turn into warrants, which allows the city to tow the vehicles and keep them until the owner pays up.
So, why isn't the city impound lot full of mail trucks? Because federal law prevents the city from towing federal vehicles.
"It's extremely frustrating," says Larkin. She and other PDOT officials have repeatedly called Ron Anderson, a local postal official, and on March 21, wrote a letter to the then-postmaster, Michael Daley. So far, they say, they've received no response. One postal employee, who requested anonymity, said, "We know what we're doing is screwing the public."
Acting Postmaster Franklin Diggins declined comment. Told of the scale of the problem, Anderson hemmed and hawed. He says he knew USPS iron was crowding public parking, but "I was not aware they'd been ticketed."
Anderson says the problem cropped up because postal employees are allowed to park their private cars in the University Station lot, shunting postal trucks into the street.
"I hope I don't hear that this is an operational need," says City Commissioner Charlie Hales, who promises to get postal employees commuting like proper Portlanders as quick as you can say "rideshare." He has a meeting scheduled with the postmaster for Nov. 13. Still, Hales says the $45,000--enough to pay for a streetful of speedbumps--may be lost; federal law may not let the city collect.
Will the feds voluntarily pay up? "I don't know," says Anderson. "That's a good question."