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Parking for free at meters in the Quarter? There isn't much the city can do

Some people have found a way around the system and so far there doesn't appear a way to stop them.

NEW ORLEANS — Through the years – centuries even – the French Quarter has drawn much of its charm from the hustlers, con artists and rogue characters skirting the edges of civility, and sometimes even the law. The famously frayed old neighborhood has seen eras of wide-open gambling, prostitution, drug-dealing and, more recently, low-level tourist scams.  

Now WWL-TV has uncovered another French Quarter scheme, one that is not only wide open, but the victim is the city itself. And the scammers have their own story to tell. 

How it works

Here’s the hustle. 

On any given day, walk through the Quarter below Royal Street and you'll see car after car with no license plate next to expired parking meters. Not only that, you’ll see that the same cars have their dashboard Vehicle Identification Number – or VIN – conveniently covered. 

What you won’t see are any of those dreaded orange parking tickets on the windshields of these illegally parked cars. The city may have a small army of parking enforcement officers, but a car without a license plate or VIN number can’t be ticketed because the meter maid has nothing to punch into the hand-held electronic ticket machine. 

And without a ticket, the city doesn’t tow.

One French Quarter resident has photographed dozens of “unidentifiable” cars on nearly every day of the week except Sunday (a free parking day). The man, who requested anonymity, has documented as many as 40 such cars a day in a roughly five-by-six block area.

“I tried to talk to a meter maid about why they ticket cars with license plates but not without the plates, and she basically said, you know, they can't ticket or tow them because they don't have plates,” the resident said.

WWL-TV surveyed the area on several different days and found more than a dozen plate-less, ticket-less cars in just about 20 minutes time.

No attempt to hide it

In front of the Eighth District Police Station. In front of the State Supreme Court building. Several parked in a row in front of Antoine’s. Nearly an entire block of Wilkinson Street.

Channel Four also discovered that most of the people parking rogue are French Quarter service workers, people in low-paying jobs at shops, bars and restaurants. A reporter even caught one worker in a cook’s outfit as he parked his plate-less car.

Before rushing off, the man said that he was late for work and there’s hardly ever a place to park.

WWL-TV talked to another restaurant worker who confirmed that most of the illegally parked cars belong to service workers who can’t afford the money to park in a pay lot, or the time to park the considerable  distance away from the metered parking spots. 

“That's all the people who work around here,” the worker said. “They don't have anywhere to park.” 

He said he didn’t know when the dodge became a full-blown trend, but he said all the workers know about the scheme and word spreads quickly to new any employees. 

“Employees around here will tell them: take your license plate off or your call will get towed,” he said. 

Residents say they suffer

The French Quarter resident said the parking free-for-all makes it a headache for people like him. A headache that costs him $250 a month. 

“I have to go to a parking garage now because I can't park on the street,” he said. “Literally every single day I have to park somewhere else blocks from my house. Not just a little ways, but a long ways from my house.”

Some back-of-the-napkin math shows that city is missing out on at least  $1,000 a day, assuming 40 illegally parked cars avoiding payment of the  $25 a day it would cost to park at a meter for eight hours. 

The resident said he's notified police, parking enforcement officials, and City Council members. He said his District C Councilman Freddie King responded right away. 

“Our office has acted on this,” King said  “We contacted the Department of Public Works, we contacted the NOPD Eighth District, as well as parking enforcement. We went out there; some people were booted, some people were towed.” 

There was, in fact, a one-day crackdown in which parking officers used boots to immobilize some of the illegally parked and plate-less cars. But a couple of days later, the cars returned. 

French Quarter gift shop owner Rhonda Findley says she can understand the position of both the city and employees. She said the employees feel too much of a financial pinch to fork over the high cost of using a private parking lot or feeding a meter all day. 

“People want to come and work in the Quarter, but they don't want to pay half of what they make a day,” Findley said.

Findley says the city should come up with a creative solution.

“If you can outsmart your city government, maybe our city government needs to be a bit smarter,” she said.

King said he is working to do just that.

“We're maybe looking at having permits or placards so if you work in the French Quarter, if you live in the French Quarter you can park for a certain period of time,” King said. 

The permit idea is used successfully in residential areas of the city, including parts of the French Quarter. But no such permits exist for heavily traveled business corridors. 

King said his office has also looked into the feasibility of designated a parking lot for workers and providing a shuttle to busy tourist section of the French Quarter. 

Meanwhile, the longtime French Quarter resident said he’s not holding his breath for a solution to the widespread, open-air ticket avoidance. He said that one day recently, a parking enforcement offered him some advice:

“She said if you may want to do that yourself. It'd be easier than getting a parking ticket every day.”

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