July 04, 2008
Boot this!

I like the sound of this.

While towing companies are regulated, booting companies are not. They may soon be, as officials craft an ordinance to regulate the practice.

"We've seen an increase in this kind of complaint since last summer," said Liliana Rambo, the city's director of parking management. "The booting operators came to Houston and found a wide-open market."

Premier Parking Enforcement Inc. entered the Houston market about 18 months ago. The Atlanta-based operator would be fine with regulation, said their lobbyist, Darryl Carter.

"It would make the business much easier because we would know what is expected," he said.

Carter said Premier is hired by parking lot owners to patrol their lots to enforce payment.

The lot owners would rather boot than tow because it's less "intrusive" for the customer, Carter said. Booting -- which involves the installation of a bulky metal device on a wheel to prevent an automobile from being driven -- can be resolved on site and results in less potential for damage than hauling a vehicle away. Premier charges $100 to remove its boots and guarantees it will remove a device within an hour of payment.

The proposed ordinance could limit removal fees to a maximum $100 and require boot company employees to wear photo identification.

The city also is considering rules for surface lots that do not use automated gates or issue receipts, Rambo said. Those lots are the ones that generate the most confusion and complaints, she explained.

The new rules still are being developed, but could include a requirement that lot owners post signs telling drivers how to pay for parking, the hours and days that booting is enforced, and the telephone numbers of the booting company and the police department.

One proposal would exempt lots from signage rules if they install receipt equipment and automated gates.

All of this sounds eminently reasonable to me. I occasionally park in self-serve lots, and I always have a twinge of doubt as I shove my bills into that tiny slot that I'll get credit for having paid. Of course, automated gates can be problematic, too. But basically, setting clearly understood rules, and encouraging parking lots to be more user-friendly, is all to the good.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 04, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
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