At a hearing Wednesday to discuss how to better regulate mobile food vendors, City Council members questioned why vendors who aren't in compliance with parking rules aren't fined regularly.

City staff replied that for many vendors, a $55 parking ticket, even one every day, is just the cost of doing business. But here's a common sense idea for deterring parking violators.

Why is it that with your second DUI or drug possession charge you receive a harsher penalty than your first time, but with parking you get the same fine, no matter how many times you've violated the rules?

It's a simple question asked by Donald Shoup, a UCLA economist, urban planning thinker and guru of all things parking.

This sounded shocking to us, but in retrospect, it's really not: A tiny percentage of drivers are responsible for a significant percentage of parking tickets. Just like with street crime, we have a small group of recidivists making life hell for the rest of us.

These serial violators aren't stupid. They sense, intuitively, that the odds of getting a ticket when parked illegally aren't that great. In fact, Shoup says audits of L.A. place the figure at 5 percent. Repeat violators do a cost-benefit analysis — and park wherever they please. One in twenty times they get a ticket, but the fine never increases. For the convenience, they've decided a ticket is worth it.

Shoup showed us some data: At the University of Idaho, 1.3 percent of drivers were ticketed for more than four violations in a year, but they accounted for 31 percent of all tickets. At Boise State, 3 percent of drivers were ticketed more than four times in a year, but they accounted for 44 percent of all tickets. At Western Kentucky University, 10 percent of license plates received 40 percent of the tickets.

What to do with these serial parking thieves? The answer is obvious: Graduated fines, so that the more a person violates the parking rules, the higher the fine. You'd hope the tougher penalties would reduce illegal parking, meaning more spaces for the rest of us. Even if that meant less revenue, it'd be worth doing.

If it brings in more revenue, authorities could reduce the fine for the first violation, sparing those of us who occasionally make a mistake or get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. As it is, the price of a parking ticket is one of the things that creates massive hostility toward City Hall.

So, back to the original topic of the food trucks. If you want them to stop parking illegally, just increase the penalties with each offense. Human behavior is easier to understand when you see that we're sort of simple and react strongly to rewards and punishments.

LA Weekly