INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A CBS4 Problem Solvers investigation into city parking tickets found more than $9 million in unpaid tickets, and a system that can be confusing for drivers.
A parking ticket, sitting inside a yellow envelope, can be an unwelcome sight and mean money out of your pocket. As some drivers found out, though, it can mean a pain that goes well beyond the moment you get the ticket.
"(It's) very frustrating," one driver said.
"I actually filled out about three papers," another driver described.
CBS4 Problem Solvers spent the past year filing public records requests, analyzing documents, and asking questions about the city of Indianapolis parking system.
The system is two-fold: outside vendor ParkIndy runs all of the city's meters. The city itself, through the Controller's Office, handles all non-metered parking violations.
As of the end of 2016, drivers owed ParkIndy more than $7.5 million in outstanding fines. The city calculated an additional $1.5 million left unpaid, totaling more than $9 million in money that has yet to be paid by drivers. That's money that could go to more police officers, or to pave bad roads, for example.
"For those people who don't pay, it's really unfair for those who scoff at it," Deputy Controller Brett Wineinger said.
CBS4 Problem Solvers sat down with Wineinger, who could speak to the city's portion of the system.
Despite repeated requests for an on-camera interview, a ParkIndy representative would only respond to emailed questions, refusing to make anyone available in person.
Wineinger said that if you owe the city for a parking ticket, there can be a lag in processing, but it doesn't mean the fine has disappeared.
"Just because there’s a debt out there that might be lingering does not mean that we’re going to stop pursuing it," Wineinger said.
According to our investigation, though, pursuing that parking debt can take years.
We asked ParkIndy for a list of the top five offenders who owe the most in tickets. Four of the top five drivers racked up at least 40 tickets each, some dating all the way back to 2008.
The worst offender managed to receive 150 tickets in just 14 months. Years later, that driver still owes the city $22,000.
CBS4 Problem Solvers attempted to track down those top five offenders, but we found them very difficult to find. At an address for the driver who owed $22,000, a woman who identified herself as her mother said her daughter died unexpectedly over the summer and had never told her about the parking debt.
"She never did say anything about it to me," the woman said.
Documents linked to another driver showed numerous envelopes returned, marked "unable to forward."
The city's system relies largely on paper notices mailed to you if you don't pay, and those notices are sent to the address you keep on file with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Wineinger said that many people move, but don't update their address right away, which makes it difficult to get them a notice on time.
Both the city and ParkIndy follow a process which includes a late fee if you don't pay your ticket, then a court summons, and eventually outstanding debt is turned over to a 3rd party collections agency.
You can request a hearing and dispute a ticket, but drivers who spoke to CBS4 Problem Solvers said they found the system difficult to navigate.
"Actually finding how to get the paperwork to put in is kind of hard," driver David Turner said.
Turner, who showed up to a city hearing earlier this month, said he wanted to dispute his ticket. He filed paperwork, but due to a lag, received a notice he would be fined even though he'd already asked for a review.
"I came back and filled out another one and then that took so long, I came back and filled out, like, every paper in the box," Turner said.
Drivers at that hearing showed CBS4 Problem Solvers tickets dating back to July, April, and even February.
Christina Matlock, a college student who lives in Bloomington, said she didn't know there was an outstanding ticket under her name until she received a collections notice.
"It was March my first letter and then September my second one saying I have to go to court," Matlock said.
Wineinger admitted that paper tickets and a confusing process have plagued the parking system for years, and said our investigation did prompt action.
"I want to thank you for bringing up the issue because ... that gave us an opportunity to really go through and look at some of those line item by line item," Wineinger said.
Wineinger said he found some unpaid tickets that had stalled and gone unnoticed, which could've caused drivers to think they didn't need to pay.
The city had already been working to update its system, too, including a more streamlined website which which allow you to pay and dispute tickets in one place, and electronic pay terminals to be placed in the city-county building downtown.
"We're very eager. We would've liked to have had this in place already," Wineinger said.
That all adds up to a system that is changing, but slowly. If you're one of those people who owe a portion of the $9 million in outstanding tickets, beware: Wineinger said the city has 10 years to track you down and you could end up with a bill you didn't expect.
"We're not giving up on things just because they're past due and delinquent," Wineinger said.