The latest tool in the battle against parking scofflaws is a device that looks as harmless as SpongeBob SquarePants but sticks to an offender's car like a barnacle.
Hence, its name: the Barnacle, a parking enforcement device that its inventors say could replace the steel boot.
Both devices are intended to immobilize a vehicle until the owners pay outstanding tickets. The boot goes on a wheel. The Barnacle attaches to an offender's windshield with giant suction cups and blocks the driver's vision. If you try to tamper with it, the device sounds an alarm. The alarm sounds if you break the shell or its twin suction cups, as one unhappy Pennsylvania motorist found out. It even comes with a GPS device in some models that will help the law track you down.
Jon Haney, who is scofflaw supervisor (actual title) at the Allentown Parking Authority, spoke glowingly of it.
Haney said the device has been a hit with parking enforcement officers. The Barnacle is lighter than the solid steel boots – about 15 pounds vs. 30 or more for the boot, Haney said. Attaching a solid steel boot often means bending down, or almost lying on the street to get the thing on, usually on the traffic side of a parked car.
None of the agency's 10 parking enforcement officers has been injured – other than some scraped knuckles on asphalt, Haney said – but why take chances? The Barnacle can be applied from the sidewalk; a coded keypad locks the suction cups into place.
One scofflaw did manage to break off the yellow shell but discovered those suction cups weren't coming loose until the ticket was paid.
“I like to say in that instance, that the Barnacle lost the battle but we won the war,” Haney said. He said so far, no one has been brave enough, or foolhardy enough, to drive off with his head out the window.
Of course, people still haven't learned that it doesn't pay to tamper with the sturdier-looking boot, either.
“People try that all the time,” Haney said. “Generally, we'll come back to a vehicle and find the boot's in a different position because they've yanked on it, pulled on it, kicked it, tried to move the car to see what they can do.”
One scofflaw decided to try to drive off with a boot on.
“He's going down the road with sparks flying,” Haney said. “He did okay until he tried to make a turn, and then the car just went straight and crashed.” Police took care of the rest.
In Allentown, parking scofflaws risk getting booted by letting just a single ticket go unpaid for 46 days or more. Whether they get the boot or the Barnacle, they have to pay the outstanding fine and a $50 booting fee before the device comes off.
“It doesn't pay to get tickets. It's much easier to park legally,” Haney said.
And speaking of understatement, there's this sentence from Ideas that Stick, the Barnacle's manufacturer: “We know that most people resolve their parking violations on their own, but some need a more compelling method of ensuring they pay their debt,” its website says.
The Allentown Parking Authority has been using the device as part of a pilot program that began in August 2016 and will end later this month, Haney said.