Parking Tickets Plummeted When the Pandemic Hit and Enforcement Remains Spotty

Such citations serve as an incentive to feed the meter; without them, paid parking operates on an honor system.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, parking citations doled out by the city to drivers plummeted by more than half. That’s to be expected: Fewer people were commuting—and crossing their fingers that meter officers hadn’t noticed they’d parked half an hour over their allotted time.

But as the pandemic’s effect on car and foot traffic has ebbed, and Portlanders again have begun to drive to and from the office, there’s been little rebound in parking citations and warnings.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation gets much of its funding from two streams: parking fees and gas taxes. And as motor vehicles in Portland becomes increasingly more efficient and gas taxes lower, PBOT must find a way to curb the decline in revenue. The bureau is attempting to remedy some of that already: In the past two years, it’s expanded paid parking to more residential neighborhoods and, earlier this year, increased parking meter rates in parts of the city.

Parking citations do not, by themselves, increase the bureau’s net revenue, according to PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera. That’s largely because courts take a portion of parking fines (which it then passes on to the state’s general fund) before routing the remaining dollars to PBOT, and because the cost of issuing tickets is more than the revenue brought in by fines.

Parking citations “have always been a money loser, and lost even more revenue for the bureau during the pandemic,” Rivera says. But such citations serve as an incentive to feed the meter; without them, paid parking operates on an honor system.

If it seems Portland has fewer parking officers roaming the streets since the start of the pandemic, Rivera says, that’s because their ranks have indeed thinned. “Some of those officers have been reassigned to other duties,” he says, “such as abandoned auto response and response to people living in vehicles.”

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the bureau, tells WW that despite more money allocated to the parking enforcement team last fall, she “directed [the team] to prioritize towing abandoned RVs compared to general parking enforcement.” She adds that PBOT “needs more resources across the board.”

The chart below shows the number of parking citations issued in Portland since 2019 and each year’s revenues. (Because of the lag between when citations are issued and fines are paid, revenue collected is not necessarily generated by citations issued in the same year.)

Portland Parking Citations & Revenue

Source: Portland Bureau of Transportation