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Car booted? A cellphone & credit card will free it now

on November 12, 2009

Some unlucky Oaklanders will be getting new shoes–not for their feet, but their cars’ feet.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever had your car booted, but it’s a pain,” said Clinton Wheeler, the operations manager for Paylock, a New Jersey-based company that provides parking enforcement products and services, as he showed reporters today the new electronically-unlockable booting system his company is providing the city of Oakland.

Oakland’s previous boot system: if a person’s car had five or more unpaid tickets, it would be booted immediately, so that no one could drive the car, while a tow truck was called. To claim the car, the driver would then have to visit four different locations–the City’s Parking Division, the Oakland Police Department, the DMV, and finally the tow yard. And if the driver’s car was towed over the weekend, even more fees were accumulated because of storage fees.

“You walk outside and your car is gone. It’s the worst feeling,” Wheeler said.

Paylock is providing the city with electronic boots–the first time these new boots have been brought to the West Coast.  The Paylock device, the “SmartBoot,” is used in numerous regions in the eastern part of the country,  including New York, Maryland and Louisiana. The city of Oakland does not have to pay for the boots, but Paylock will receive the boot-unlocking fees.

Wheeler demonstrated this morning how the electronic boot is locked and unlocked from a white minivan’s front right wheel.

Now, when the owner of the car has reached the five or more ticket limit, Wheeler said, their car will be booted rather than being impounded.   The owner can then call the 800-number on the boot, and can pay her debt with a credit card over the phone, or pay cash at the Parking Citation Assistance Center in Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.  An operator will then give the owner a code that will unlock the boot.

So what are the car owner supposed to do then with the yellow boot? “They have 24 hours to drop off the boot to any of the specific locations that the city of Oakland allows,” Wheeler said. The boot drop-off locations in Oakland are Douglas Parking on Webster Street and B&B Towing on G Street.

The electronic boot is also easy to put on a tire. Oakland’s previous car boots took five to ten minutes to put on, because the boot needed to be cranked to the wheel, Wheeler said. “This one — just a couple of seconds,” he said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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