Just Above Sunset
October 23, 2005 - My Parking Ticket Ladies

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Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. His weekly columns appear here and often in a slightly different version the next day on his site from Paris, with photographs. Here, a bit on playing by the rules in France - French law.

PARIS, Friday, October 21 - I'm glad I don't have a car because the 'circulation' shop with the red tiles is between Fermat and Daguerre, right around the corner. A sign on the locked door with a code buzzer says, 'Public not welcome.' It's the Montparnasse headquarters of the parking ticket ladies.


There's nothing to see. They are either in there tidying up their lipstick and their tickets or they are walking around sticking them on cars. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to the outside work, but they probably have some scheme. You see them working sometimes but mostly you don't see them, except if they are hiding around the corner having a smoke, waiting for quitting time.


I suspect the illegal parking fine might be quite a bit, especially now that they are in euros. For example, littering can cost 183 euros. In theory the parking ticket ladies can hand out tickets for stupid littering or for reckless dog shit. But nobody wants confrontations. Putting a ticket on a car with no driver around is safe as red roses.


France has a lot of laws. The bloody Romans started it, the kings took over, then the revolution carried on the kings' laws and added some more, and now administrators are trained in their own fancy schools - the ENA - and they've learned to add micro decrees, so there are laws piled on top of laws. This is not a big problem because few of them are enforced. Enforcing laws costs a lot of money and enforcement pisses people off. If you get something stupid like Vichy in WWII, they didn't write a lot of new laws, but mostly enforced old laws. Even the Germans enforced fewer laws.


It's one of the reasons that so many - except Nazis - Germans like France. Germans like the idea of laws that aren't enforced; they think the French know how to live properly. Nazis think the French are degenerate and corrupt.


Actually, if you look at car dashboards, you'll see a lot of the tickets printed out by the parking metres. Most people pay, because no matter how much it costs, it's cheaper than getting fines, especially now that they cost real money instead of francs.


The presidential amnesty isn't guaranteed. If you don't pay parking tickets for five years, waiting for the amnesty, and it doesn't happen, then where are you? But some French like living recklessly.


The amnesty - it's an old tradition when a new president is elected.  During the election campaign, when the candidates are making their promises - a newspaper or TV-news will ask the question - what is your amnesty plan? Considered to be chicken feed, it might be a forgiveness for all parking tickets. The problem is, pedestrians vote too, and how do you give them a freebie? The president can't promise cleaner sidewalks after all. Sidewalks are run by the city, not by the Elysée Palace.


France and other European countries are having talks at the moment, inching towards having a continental registry - so French cops can ticket foreign cars and foreign drivers can't escape paying the fines by leaving town. Our dynamic but short minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said foreign cars will not be immune after the beginning of 2006. Foreign drivers don't vote here.


The new measure will surely put a dent in tourism. How many repressed Europeans will pass up France now that there's to be no immunity for tearing around, breaking all the laws? For foreigners, being under Sarkozy's little thumb will not be amusing.


But parking fines are a great way to fill up the government's coffers. Chasing pedophiles over the Internet is not nearly as rewarding. I mean, French parents want to hear that Sarkozy is chasing pedophiles - so he'll say he is - but parking tickets are a real moneymaker in comparison. It's a form of tax after all; the city gets money from those who pay, and later from those who don't - and all it costs is paying for some parking ticket ladies. The city probably even makes them buy their own uniforms.


Some drivers suspect the parking ticket ladies get a commission but I doubt it. You would see them working a lot harder if they did. For what they are probably paid there's no incentive for German-style diligence.

Champs-Elysées, October 2005

I have to wonder what the plan will be if they ever figure out how to ban cars from Paris. What will they do with all these wide avenues and boulevards? I suppose the homeless could be stashed in unused parking garages, but what of the hundreds of kilometers of street parking spaces?


Nobody has mentioned it lately, but there are people around who are still burned up by Baron Haussmann's little urban project for Paris.  But I don't know of any reason why wide streets can't be filled in with more office and apartment buildings. Without cars you could put a line of them down the middle of the Champs-Elysées, transforming the avenue from a ten-lane wide no-parking zero revenue zone into a classy tax paying high-rent district.


But it'll never happen. The Champs-Elysées is also where the new president takes his, or her, victory drive, from the Etoile down to Concorde and whip, zip, around the corner to the gilded Elysée.


Let's face it - France has its exceptions. One of them is the crazy notion that there's more to life than making nothing but money. As far as the parking ticket ladies are concerned the Champs-Elysées is a total loss, for the sheer splendid hell of it.



Photo and Text Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis



Useful links:


ENA (L'Ecole nationale d'administration 


From the page on driving tips at Discover France:


Parking is strictly regulated in urban areas, and is permitted only in spaces painted in white. Those marked in yellow are reserved for commercial and official vehicles only. Areas with yellow curbs may be used to drop off or pick up passengers, but parking is not allowed there. No parking is permitted on certain main routes through the center of Paris, labeled axes rouges (red routes).


If you see the word Payant, then a parking fee must be paid. Payment machines called horodateurs are located at intervals along the street, where coupons may be purchased for 15 minutes to 2 hours of parking time. You must leave the coupon inside the vehicle, visible through the windshield on the driver's side. The fine for non-payment is about €12.


Many downtown areas have modern and secure underground parking structures. Rates are higher than parking on the street, but they do offer more space and longer parking periods.


Should you happen to be staying in Paris, you will undoubtedly notice that many Parisians seem to park anywhere, anytime - including up on the curbs and sidewalks. We do not recommend that you imitate this practice!


If you are unable to find your vehicle after parking it illegally, it has probably been impounded. To find out, call the Préfecture de Police. They will give you instructions on how to retrieve your vehicle. Be prepared to pay a fine and a towing fee when you claim your vehicle. Don't wait too long, since storage fees can be rather high.


Ric's previous comments from June 2001 -and from August 1998 when they turned some of the parking meters off for a month. 


A Paris meter woman doing the ticket thing


From one of the editor's December trips to Paris – cars parked on Boulevard St-Germain, in front of Saint Germain des Prés abbey, founded in 558, which was outside the walls - « in the fields » (« dans les prés »).  The Roman church of twelfth century is in the background.  The foreground?  A Smart car.

Paris Parking, December 2001

And an older Renault Clio at a horodateur on rue St-Benoit –

Paris Parking, June 2000


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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