City gives car scan the boot

For those who have long put off paying off pesky parking tickets, life might become a little easier as the city cuts down on its use of advanced equipment to identify cars with unpaid tickets.

Officials from the New Haven Finance Department said they have temporarily scaled back the use of BootFinder, an optical recognition instrument that scans vehicle license plates and identifies drivers who fail to pay property taxes or parking tickets. City Controller Mark Pietrosimone said that while the city is still using the instrument to identify tax delinquents, New Haven has temporarily suspended the use of BootFinder to identify drivers who have accumulated parking tickets because the program has not been as effective as expected.

Pietrosimone, who oversees finances for the entire city, said BootFinder was originally used by the city only to identify tax delinquents. Encouraged by the success of this program, the city began to use BootFinder to identify and tow the cars of drivers who have accumulated more than $200 worth of parking tickets. But so far, Pietrosimone said, the results have not been promising.

“We’ve used [BootFinder] maybe three to five times, and the success rate wasn’t where we expected it to be,” he said. “We didn’t find as many cars as we anticipated.”

Director of Parking and Transit Services Paul Wessel said that although BootFinder allows towing companies and street marshals to identify tax delinquents immediately, the equipment is extremely expensive.

“It has advanced optical recognition capabilities,” he said. “Basically, you just scan the license plate and it can match it up with tax records.”

Although Wessel said his department used to oversee the program, he said they gave up control of the program to the city’s finance department after the program expanded to include tax collection.

Some municipal towing companies said they were pleased with the city’s decision to scale back the use of BootFinder. Vin DeLauro, a spokesman for the Municipal Towing Companies group, said several of the towing companies in the city are strongly against the city’s use of BootFinder because the program, he said, unfairly favors certain towing companies and will thus deprive other companies of business.

DeLauro said the city currently contracts private towing companies to tow cars whose drivers the city deems tax delinquent. But due to the expense of the BootFinder equipment, the city was only able to outfit two towing companies — Tony’s LongWharf Transport and Lombard Motors — with the necessary parts.

Pietrosimone said that after he received several complaints from the Municipal Towing group, including a letter to Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the program expanded to include all municipal towing companies.

Although the city is not currently using BootFinder to collect parking tickets, Pietrosimone said he has not ruled out the possibility of experimenting with the system again in the fall.

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