A new luxury-services firm will take your place in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles—for a fee.
It’s 10:14 a.m. when Jerry Jackson leaves his 2nd Street NE office to head out on the trail of the parking-enforcement booters. Passing the corner of 2nd and D Streets, the founder of Parking Tickets ‘R’ Us revs his red Jeep toward Constitution Avenue in search of booted cars. One minute and 32 seconds into the drive, Jackson spots his quarry. He stops, hops out, and carefully writes down the license plate number of a jet-black Nissan Altima.
“We’re way behind,” Jackson says, examining the car’s ticket and shaking his head. “Parking Enforcement arrived here at 8:17 this morning.” He places a Parking Tickets ‘R’ Us flier under the Nissan’s windshield wiper. “Everything’s based on timing in this business,” he adds. He jumps back into the Jeep and begins the search anew.
Illegally parked vehicles are booted if their owner has two or more outstanding unpaid parking tickets. Instead of simply writing yet another ticket, DMV parking-enforcement booters clamp the ugly steel contraption on a wheel, where the orange eyesore will remain until the car’s owner pays the outstanding fines—plus an unbooting fee. These unbooting and towing fees added an extra $1.8 million to the city’s coffers in 1998. That year, 22,402 cars were booted and 15,069 were towed, according to Department of Public Works spokesperson Linda Grant.
In mid-March, Jackson launched a business to make some loot off the boot.
For a $40 fee, Jackson says, Parking Tickets ‘R’ Us will free vehicles from their chains and customers from having to go down to the Department of Motor Vehicles to pay fines. Busy Washingtonians terrified by local lore about long lines and surly staffers can call Jackson’s office, give their driver’s license and registration numbers, and use their credit cards to pay for anything from red-light violations and parking tickets to renewing licenses and tags. Jackson, in turn, walks company cash for the fines down to the DMV’s K Street Service Center, which is conveniently located just around the corner from the Parking Tickets ‘R’ Us office. (Service fees range from $1.50 for a parking ticket to $40 for a boot.)
There have always been entrepreneurs—from post-pothole realignment specialists to private warrant servers—ready to make a buck off the inefficiency of District government. But Jackson is also counting on the willingness of busy, well-off D.C. residents to outsource yet another mundane chore. And according to DMV spokesperson Larry Brown, it’s just fine with him if the citizenry is willing to pay extra to avoid contact with his agency. “If [Jackson] can provide this service to good working citizens, and as long as it meets the letter of the law, we have no problem with it,” says Brown. And hey—the less contact people have with the DMV, the less they’ll complain about its service.
Charles Hudman, for one, is so busy patting himself on the back for having found Jackson he doesn’t bother to kvetch about the DMV. Hudman, who runs the Flori Bunda flower shop in Georgetown, thinks paying someone to wait in line for him is a great idea. He was incensed when his company van got two tickets. Having the company driver who got the tickets take the time to go pay them would have substantially slowed delivery—and led to lost business that day. “We can’t take time out of our busy schedule,” says Hudman. So he turned to Jackson. “In just over an hour, everything was cleared up,” Hudman says.
It’s 11:14 a.m., and Jackson has been cruising Capitol Hill for exactly one hour. So far, he’s located and placed fliers on 11 booted vehicles. “The key is finding the path of the parking enforcement officer,” he says. “That way, you can get to the car before the owner does….If [car owners] are in a rush or it’s a Friday, chances are they will call us for help if they see the flier at the right time.” Jackson estimates that nearly half of the drivers who see his flier call.
So far today, though, Jackson hasn’t gotten even one call. Just as the trail seems to be running cold, Parking Tickets ‘R’ Us office manager Nadage Adams calls. Adams presents Jackson with the first paying customer of the day: a woman whose car was booted at 8:27 a.m. The woman wants Jackson to get her back on the streets pronto. Jackson flips through his notebook and breaks into a smile. “I placed a flier on her car at 10. That’s not a bad turnaround,” he says, steering his jeep toward K Street. Two more customers call to register for same-day services as he drives.
On his way to the DMV, Jackson spies several parking enforcers on 7th Street SE. He stops to offer a warm handshake to each. “How are you?” he asks the officers, one of whom is munching on a bag of Doritos. “It’s good to finally meet you.” Jackson fears that the DMV will try to shut down his operation because he’s taking some of the sting out of parking illegally; making friends with the enforcers is therefore a high priority. “We have to educate them, tell them we’re trying to help them, that we’re with them,” he says.
Jackson’s history of dealing with the DMV goes back further than Parking Tickets ‘R’ Us’ one month of operation. He says he spent 15 years moonlighting as a “boot-buster” for friends and well-placed “private clients.” And he’s determined to ingratiate himself with District officials—from Police Chief Charles Ramsey to the lowliest traffic cop—as a way of preventing problems for his new full-time luxury-service business.
“You’ve got to know the psychology of what goes on down here,” Jackson says, pulling up to the K Street Service Center. The key, he adds, is to treat the DMV officials with utter courtesy and respect. And lots of smiling is essential. True to form, he flashes a broad grin as he walks through the DMV’s front doors. “Look around,” he says. “Everyone is arguing or frowning.” Sure enough, there are plenty of scowling, impatient faces.
Jackson takes a spot at the back of the parking-violation line. After just three minutes, he reaches the payment counter and—with a smile—hands over the license plate numbers of today’s three customers. He slides a Parking Tickets ‘R’ Us card through the window slot when the cashier looks puzzled. Seeing it, she smiles back at him, and she processes his request in less than a minute and a half. At 11:59 a.m., a mere 10 minutes after arriving, Jackson has paid $700 in fines for his customers. And he’s earned a tidy $124 for himself. “We have to educate our public,” he says. “People don’t know what their rights are.” CP