Permit-By-Plate: The Good, Bad and the Ugly

Since December Beverly Hills residents have been on notice that the city is changing-up the residential permit parking program. Gone is the simple application to the transportation division and rearview mirror hangtag. Now the application is online through a cumbersome third-party website. Starting in April, permits and exemptions will be validated primarily by license plate through BHPD. The city promises greater efficiency but the public pays a price in convenience — and in privacy. Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

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What is ‘Permit-by-Plate’?

Permit-by-plate is the term for a system by which parking permits are tied to a specific vehicle by the license plate number rather than associated with the registered household.

How it works: license plates are scanned by an automated license plate reader (ALPR) that is fitted to every traffic control car or held by traffic control officers in the field. A roving traffic control officer scans the plate which is then cross-referenced to license plate numbers that are associated with parking permit registrations. If a vehicle is parked in a preferential permit zone but is not associated with a valid permit registration, or has exceeded the time allowed for parking, then a citation is issued. There is no need for hangtags or codes-on-paper or anything on the vehicle connected to a parking permit.

How it differs: the old system used rearview mirror hangtag that could be swapped-out among vehicles, or handed out to guests. The hangtag was portable but had to be visually validated by an officer — a time-consuming process that slowed enforcement. Under the new system a permit is linked to the vehicle’s license plate number at the time of registration or thereafter. “Your plate is your permit,” said supervising BHPD Sargent Tomlinson in a November permit-by-plate program update to city council.

Who runs the new system? The preferential parking program is now a BHPD initiative. While BHPD oversees the operation, all aspects of registration, citation processing, billing and collections are handled by a third-party firm called Data Ticket Inc. that contracts with the city to provide those services.

Why change systems? BHPD has presented the new permit-by-plate system as a step toward greater enforcement efficiency and improved public safety. “The parking permit process is in dire need of enhanced efficiency through automation, and technology to support the complexity of the City’s parking permit program,” BHPD told city council in the October 2020 staff report that outsourced the responsibility.

It would greatly benefit the City to transition to a vendor-provided permit management system that can provide seamless integrations with the citation management system and mobile [license plate readers]. This can potentially result in increased enforcement efficiencies which would increase citywide compliance.” — staff report

The touted efficiency comes from automating the process of validating a parking permit. An automated license plate reader scans license plates as the traffic control vehicle rolls by. The permit or parking exemption is validated nearly instantaneously and also logged into a BHPD database. The traffic control officer then rolls on to the next vehicle without even slowing down or issues a citation.

Aside from validating the parking permit the automated system allows more efficient enforcement of parking parking restrictions (like time limits) that otherwise are difficult to enforce. If a vehicle is parked without a permit or exemption in a 1-hour permit zone, but it hasn’t moved in more than one hour, the roving traffic control officer is alerted and a citation can be issued.

Again there is no hangtag or printed code on the dashboard. The automated reader queries the permit-by-plate database for a valid permit in a fraction of a second.

Permit-by-Plate: “Increased Compliance”

Permit-by-plate can so effectively enforce parking regulations that residents will inevitably be surprised to learn that certain regulations are on the books. Take for example the requirement that a vehicle with a preferential parking permit must park “adjacent” to the address registered to the permit.

A resident who holds a valid preferential parking permit may use the permit for the purpose of parking on the street block adjacent to the dwelling unit of such resident or adjacent to the dwelling unit of another resident who resides in the same preferential parking zone while they are visiting such resident. — B.H.M.C. 7–3–211

If the permit vehicle is parked in the zone somewhere other than adjacent to the permit-holder’s address, then the geo-locating capability of the permit-by-plate system flags that vehicle as parked somewhere other than adjacent to the registered address.

Likewise leaving a car parked on a public street for more than a consecutive period of 72 hours can earn a citation for violating B.H.M.C. 5–6–902 (use of streets for storage of vehicles). How many residents who park on the street don’t move their car every 72 hours? Many of us! But in years past it was difficult or impractical for the city to enforce that restriction. Permit-by-plate makes it a breeze.

And if the parked vehicle is not moved 72 or more hours after the citation is issued, then pursuant to B.H.M.C. 7–3–113 the vehicle is “subject to removal.” That’s another enforcement tool made easy by permit-by-plate! The fines are steep but the penalties even steeper: after 21 days the fine is doubled and at 90 days another $29 surcharge is added and the debt moves to collections.

Permit-by-Plate Registration Overview

All households that need a preferential parking permit or a parking exemption, for either daytime or overnight, must first register via registration website and provide “acceptable proof” of residency such as a rental agreement or utility bill. If purchasing a preferential daytime or overnight permit then also a copy of the applicant’s driver’s license is required. Additionally purchasing an overnight permit requires copies of all household vehicle registrations.

(All verification documents must be uploaded to the website in one batch. What happens to that significant trove of personal information? Scroll down to the section Third-Party Website and No Privacy Policy.)

There are a variety of permits available: overnight, daytime, caregiver, and temporary daytime/overnight, and daytime or overnight exemptions. Let’s look at the most common permit options.

Legacy hangtag. A household that registered for a parking permits prior to 2019 can still obtain a daytime preferential permit hangtag ($37 annually) through the new system. However this option is available only to so-called legacy applicants who do not need an overnight permit. Moreover the hangtag option is available only through the current permit period which concludes in September. Thereafter hangtags will no longer be available.

Permit-by-plate preferential daytime permit. A household that was not previously registered for a parking permit must choose the default daytime preferential permit-by-plate ($37). This is the only option for new permit applicants. ‘Legacy’ users who only need daytime parking have the option.

Permit-by-plate overnight. A household that needs an overnight parking permit (for example many multifamily households) must obtain an overnight permit-by-plate ($122 annually). That is the only option available for overnight as overnight hangtags are discontinued. As noted above, registering for an overnight permit-by-plate precludes the option of the daytime preferential permit hangtag. If you need both a daytime preferential permit and an overnight permit then only permit-by-plate is available.

Exemptions for either daytime or overnight. An exemption is a one-time permission to park in a preferential permit zone whether for daytime or overnight. A limited number of exemptions are available even if a permit is not purchased: 5 free daytime exemptions are allowed per year and up to 13 overnight parking exemptions per month (both at no charge). For additional daytime exemptions purchase a preferential daytime parking permit ($37). Buy three and get an unlimited of free daytime exemptions. More than 13 overnight exemptions in any month requires an overnight permit ($122).

In the old days an exemption entailed a phone call but in recent years it transitioned to an online exemption request. The permit-by-plate system is no different. Because exemptions are also permit-by-plate, the old days of putting a permit number on the dashboard are no more.

Registration is confusing. We recommend looking at the registration instructions or the program FAQs. Both are posted on the registration website. (Also have a look at the terms and conditions linked to each permit.) Finally one can contact the registration provider Data Ticket at (424) 389–5482. For a limited time BHPD is providing “white glove” registration assistance to those who find difficulty registering.

Permit Registration Cost

BHPD said that neither the cost of the permits nor the policies behind the permit process has changed in the transition to permit-by-plate. But that is not strictly true: the price of daytime and overnight permits has increased each year and this year it is $122 up from $110 five years ago.

Second, the overnight permit will cost proportionately more this year because the cost of the permit is not prorated. Unlike prior years we paid only for the months left on the annual permit; each month past the September the cost of the overnight permit was reduced.

Prorating the permit price is a thing of the past. If one buys an overnight permit ($122) on April 1st (which is the registration deadline) the permit will have to be renewed again by September. So for this first year the effective cost is almost doubled: buy the permit at full price but use it for an abbreviated period.

Third-Party Website and No Privacy Policy

The parking permit program in the past was operated by the transportation division; all material that was sent to register for a permit stayed with the city.

After the police department assumed responsibility for parking permits and enforcement operations in 2018 the department contracted a third-party firm named Data Ticket, Inc. to handle it. Data Ticket already had an agreement with the city to process parking citations. Under a 2020 agreement the agreement was expanded to put the firm in charge of parking permit registration too. Read the Data Ticket agreement staff report for more about that.

Call it an integrated solution: from soup to nuts the whole process is handled by Data Ticket Inc. That includes the registration, the hardware and systems, and of course the citation process and payment collection. (Data Ticket is also a registered debt collector.)

Though a third-party runs the process it still looks like City of Beverly Hills administers it. We upload our verifying identity documents to a registration portal that shows the city shield and says “City of Beverly Hills Parking Permit Portal.” Indeed Data Ticket Inc. appears nowhere on the website. However this is a portal that is not under the city’s control. Likewise the customer service number connects not to city hall but instead to Data Ticket.

The logical question: how secure is our identifying information that we upload? The Data Ticket portal does not provide a privacy policy that would explain how the company will use, share or retain our identifying information. So there is no legally-binding commitment to protect users. And neither the user guide nor the FAQ say anything at all about privacy, data security or data retention — or even mentions Data Ticket. We raised these questions in a comment to city council but didn’t receive any substantive response.

So we the BHPD officers who manage the program (pictured above). They said the portal is “so secure” but would not confirm that the city’s privacy policy applied to the Data Ticket platform. In these days of data breaches and identity theft that earns permit-by-plate an ‘F’ grade in our gradebook.

Why Fix What Wasn’t Broken?

An update to city council this Tuesday, March 7th describes the permit-by-plate program this way:

The new parking program is an opportunity to enhance the City’s Preferential Parking Program in providing flexibility, access, and convenience to our residents, visitors, and businesses. The focus is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the Department’s Preferential Parking Program. This automated system also provides increased security and integration with the Beverly Hills Police Department’s Real Time Watch Center. — Staff report March 7, 2023

That has not been enough to persuade some residents to support the program. In public presentations in November and February (scroll down for links) residents bristled at the inconvenience of the new program. They balked at having to effectively re-register with a new license plate each time the permit is transferred between vehicles. And they expressed some concern about the implications of enhanced enforcement. Would they be ticketed for parking in their zone but blocks from their home?

In sum the sentiment was, Why fix what wasn’t broke?

BHPD assures that officers will enforce with discretion. And they pushed back the permit-by-plate registration deadline: a program that was supposed to be up-and-running by August of 2021 now has a deadline of April 1, 2023. In the meantime BHPD is issuing courtesy “warning citations” to vehicles that show an expired hangtag.

However vocal opponents of the program don’t want more time; they want to nix the whole permit-by-plate program and return to the traditional hangtag.

The fact is that the city is already in too deep to cut its losses. BHPD has been working on this program for almost five years. The 5-year cost of permit registration alone is $173k with $113k spent the first year to launch it — and more in subsequent years. Moreover the city hired an independent consultant to implement the program and over the past ten years Dixon Resources Unlimited has billed nearly $400,000.

The bigger picture is that Data Ticket has a $2 million contract with the city to process parking citations, register parking permits and provide the necessary hardware and services to support license plate readers.

In response to criticism city council sent BHPD on a charm offensive: “white glove service” to help households register and always on-call to tenants with a problem. “The Beverly Hills Police Department continues to work with residents in order to make this initial transition as smooth as possible,” says the department in a staff report to council for this Tuesday’s update. “We have coordinated changes in the Data Ticket Inc. website and the message on the Helpline has been updated. Our staff continues to provide exceptional in-person services as we assist the residents of Beverly Hills.”

Indeed city hall can’t walk away. But not because there is too much money and time invested already. Instead city hall won’t walk away because it is no longer about parking permits. This is a policing initiative that integrates permit-by-plate into the department’s broader surveillance and crime-fighting program.

Our Take on Permit-by-Plate

The troubled history of reforming preferential parking permits is not new. City hall has tried to consolidate or otherwise rationalize the more than 70 preferential permit parking zones that exist today. That has been a challenge because year-after-year residents bring forth new petitions for parking zones. Many are intended to limit parking on their block only to residents; some explicitly seek to exclude multifamily residents from parking on the block. Consolidating those zones inevitably runs into public resistance and indeed the city’s most recent effort was put on the back burner just last year.

However change seems to have arrived on the enforcement side. Permit-by-plate, which is facilitated by the expansion of automated license plate readers and BHPD databases, changes-up the game.

Our primary concerns are diminished privacy and the fact that permit-by-plate affects multifamily households disproportionately. Many multifamily households need to park overnight on the street and so we can’t opt-out of the program. Single-family households can opt-out because by law they must have sufficient off-street parking for their needs.

Consequently the BHPD’s watchful electronic surveillance will fall to a much greater extent on multifamily households than on single-family residents. That will be even more the case as multifamily garages and carports are converted into accessory dwelling units. Renting households will increasingly have to park onto the street.

Given the disproportionate impact we think the least the city could do is to make overnight parking permits for multifamily no-cost. Why charge multifamily households that must park on the street $122 for an annual permit?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

With those program impacts in mind let’s look at the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the new permit-by-plate program. Read our comment to city council for a laundry list of detailed concerns about the program and the website.

The Good

  • The daytime hangtag survives… though only until September and only for residents who do not need an overnight permit.
  • Greater convenience. No more worrying about a hangtag because the automated scanning and validating obviates it. Who hasn’t gotten nicked with a ticket for forgetting to hang the tag? Exemption users won’t have to place a special code on the dashboard and we won’t wake up sweating because we forgot to get it.
  • Increased efficiency. Automated license plate scanners and backend databases allow traffic control officers to focus on violators rather than visually validating hangtags. Existing staff can cover much more ground — and that would be a big improvement over the lax BHPD parking enforcement in recent years.
  • Reduced parking permit abuse. Curb parking capacity in multifamily areas is of course limited and availability is even more restricted each time a permit is used fraudulently by an employee of a local business. Permit-by-plate should discourage improper activity and reduce the demand for commercial-related parking on a residential street.
  • Increased parking turnover. Today’s lax enforcement means a 1-hour parking restriction is anything but one hour. Automated scanners and frequent passes by traffic control officers suggest that vehicles parked for longer than the allowed time are more likely to be ticketed — and that should either push commercial-related parking into a city garage or at least open up more capacity on adjacent streets.
  • Much more data to inform policy. License plate scanners used more frequently, BHPD says, will generate a finer-grain data picture that will inform the city’s future parking-related policy changes. When a parking petition is submitted under the old program, for example, city staff would have to hand-count parked cars on a block to determine what proportion of non-residents are parking there. Under the new program, the logged license plate data facilitates a quick query of the database in order to generate a snapshot (or perhaps look at parking frequency over time).

The Bad

  • Much more data in the hands of BHPD. No law enforcement agency turns down an opportunity to collect more data, but this program give BHPD the capability to log the license plate number of every vehicle parked on a city street under the guise of parking enforcement. We are but one database query away from allowing the department to identify our ‘pattern-of-life’ — a snapshot that shows when we leave, when we return and who visits. BHPD makes no clear commitment as to how that data is accessed or for how long it is retained.
  • Automated enforcement of obscure regulations makes drivers more likely to be cited. Stay past the restricted time period (e.g., 1-hour) and the BHPD’s license plate database knows. Park somewhere other than ‘adjacent’ to your residence and geo-location gives you away. Fail to move your car within 72 hours? Your citation is just a matter of time!
  • Hangtag convenience is a thing of the past. It was easy to move a hangtag between family vehicles or run it down to a visitor. No more. Each swap means going online to change the license plate number on the permit. The hangtag is with us for a few more months but then BHPD wants every permit holder to register permits by plate.
  • Citizen enforcement will take a holiday. Permit-by-plate retires the hangtag that not a few residents appreciate for allowing them to spot cars that don’t have a permit to park on the block. “Without a placard we are unable to participate in protecting our neighborhood from burglary and other crime,” said one resident. And we too have used hangtags to identify vehicles that we suspect may be misusing a permit in conjunction with illegal AirBnB activity. Now only BHPD knows which vehicles are associated with a permit.
  • Multifamily residents are disproportionately affected by permit-by-plate. Many of us don’t have off-street parking; we have no choice but to park on the street. That exposes us to greater BHPD surveillance relative to single-family households who can choose not to participate in the program.
  • Missed opportunities. The new program retains the old September-through-August registration period. For some unfathomable reason this ground-up rethinking of the program did not suggest to BHPD to issue parking permits on a calendar year January-through-December basis. And the new program scraps the prorating: though the program rolled out months after the start of the permit period last September, the $122 overnight permit cost is not discounted midway through the period. Purchase by April 1st and pay $122 though it expires only five months later.
  • The new program does nothing to address disabled parking placard abuse. Enough said!

The Ugly

  • No program changes despite rollout delays. Vocal and consistent complaints about the permit-by-plate program has not changed the city’s approach at all. There were concerns about the Data Ticket platform, privacy implications of sending data to a third party, and the website that presents itself as a city property but is not. Nothing was substantially changed. Instead the department offers “white glove” service to encourage registration.
  • Permit-by-plate is effectively a law enforcement surveillance initiative. Though it masquerades as a parking enforcement program, the real value to the police department is the near-real-time license plate data it could collect for every vehicle parked in the city — and that it definitely will collect for every vehicle parked in a preferential permit zone. That includes every multifamily block in the city.
  • Still no privacy policy.

Additional Resources

Chief Stainbrook at the permit-by-plate update January 24, 2023
Police chief Mark Stainbrook introducing the department’s January 1, 2024 permit-by-plate update to city council.