Parking enforcement in Portland has ranged from lax to nonexistent over the past few years thanks to pandemic restrictions and staff shortages, but the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) says the days of leniency are officially over. 

With Portland City Council giving the bureau the green light to hire 22 new parking enforcement officers, the fleet of officers will soon be larger than it was before the pandemic. Starting July 8, PBOT’s expanded team of 81 enforcement officers will be instructed to crack down on expired vehicle registrations and common parking infractions that some drivers might not even know are against the rules. 

While some Portland drivers will groan at the news, PBOT says it isn’t cracking down on enforcement just to annoy people. Parking and vehicle registration enforcement may have fallen to the wayside recently— budget cuts forced PBOT to downsize its enforcement team and DMV closures made it so people couldn’t reasonably be expected to update their tags— but the rules aren’t arbitrary. PBOT leaders say everyone in the city stands to benefit from stronger enforcement and the revenue it will bring in for the bureau. A hike in parking and registration enforcement is estimated to generate about $5 million in extra money for PBOT. 

At the same time, PBOT knows relying on parking fees to fund the bureau is unsustainable. City transportation leaders say they can continue to benefit from parking revenue while they find other methods of funding, but it may not be easy to disentangle PBOT from parking. 

“We’re looking to collect the resources we’re already owed.” 

PBOT’s discretionary budget— which the bureau can use for basic maintenance, operations, and programming— is funded by two primary sources. The State Highway Fund, made up of fuel taxes, DMV fees, and weight mile fees, provides about 60 percent of PBOT’s discretionary income. The other 40 percent comes from parking revenues, which includes meter fees, permits, and citations. Portland’s gas tax also funds the bureau, though that revenue is earmarked for specific purposes. 

Both of these income streams are increasingly unreliable for the bureau, and increased enforcement will only do so much to make up for their inherent problems. But PBOT leaders say the bureau needs all the income it can get, as it seeks to implement a more sustainable long-term budget plan. 

“Not only has PBOT been looking for more resources to support the bureau, but we’re also looking to collect the resources we’re already owed,” PBOT Director Millicent Williams said at a February budget work session. 

For the past several years, PBOT has been limited in its ability to enforce parking and vehicle registration fees. Over the course of the pandemic, the bureau was forced to downsize its fleet of enforcement officers, going from a team of 73 to 59. Those officers were restricted in the citations they were allowed to hand out after the state legislature banned enforcement of DMV permits in 2020, due to pandemic restrictions. 

Though the ban was lifted in late 2021, many people still haven’t updated their tags. PBOT leaders say the lax enforcement created an environment where people haven’t felt the need to abide by Portland’s parking code in general. 

“In the past, there had always been some non-compliance,” PBOT Communications Director Hannah Schafer told the Mercury. “But this pause [in enforcement] had a reverberating effect that we are seeing to this day.” 

At the February work session, Williams said nearly half of the one million registered vehicles in Portland have expired tags. Since DMV fees make up a significant chunk of Oregon’s transportation revenue— which is then doled out to agencies like PBOT— this has had a cooling effect across the state. 

“The loss of revenues from these delinquent registrations not only impacts PBOT, but also Multnomah County, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the DMV,” Williams said. 

Williams said with increased enforcement of past due registrations, PBOT could net about $1 million per year to reinvest in underfunded programs. This would come from both the citations themselves— $70 for tags expired up to 90 days, and $145 beyond that— and the additional money that will come in from the state as more people pony up for registration at the DMV. 

PBOT estimates it could bring in about $3.8 million annually by increasing parking enforcement around the city. Williams said right now, only about half of users are paying the required parking fees, leaving quite a bit of money on the table. The bureau can also expect to net some additional revenue by citing for parking transgressions in residential neighborhoods without metered parking. 

In metered parking areas, fees are about to go up. Starting July 1, parking meter fees will increase by 20 cents per hour, which PBOT says is to account for inflation. Starting in 2025, parking meter rates will be indexed to inflation annually, which PBOT expects will result in an increase of around 8 cents per hour per year. The bureau says given how much inflation has impacted construction costs over the past several years, it’s necessary to adjust parking fees— one of their main sources of income— to make up for it.

Advocates for parking policy reform, who urge cities to manage their parking supply more efficiently and promote alternative modes of transportation, question this strategy. 

Tony Jordan, a Portland transportation advocate and president of the Parking Reform Network, said the recommended practice for metered parking management is to adjust prices based on demand, not inflation. He said by adjusting based on inflation, it’s clear PBOT is “hooked on the cash,” and not doing enough to wean themselves off of parking fees as a source of general fund revenue. 

“Maintaining your revenue for the city is not the purpose of managing parking,” Jordan told the Mercury. “PBOT should be allocating more and more [parking revenue] money outside of the general fund every budget cycle.” 

PBOT recognizes the problems inherent in relying on parking revenue so heavily. A PBOT budget overview states both of these funding mechanisms have “baked-in structural issues,” adding that relying on parking revenue puts the bureau in a position where “the more successful we are in achieving our multimodal mode shift goals and getting people to drive and park less, the less revenue comes into [PBOT].” 

Jordan said in order for PBOT to get serious about reducing car dependency in Portland, bureau leaders need to cut themselves off from parking revenue. 

“You’ve got to set your expectations and your intentions that you’re managing parking not for revenue, but for the process of managing,” Jordan said. “All the revenue they make should go into helping make a transition to needing less parking.” 

Beyond the budget 

But PBOT leaders say it’s not all about the money— the lack of vehicle registration and parking enforcement has had ramifications extending beyond the bureau’s pocketbook. They say increasing enforcement will have safety benefits on the streets. 

“Vehicle registration does provide some revenue for the bureau, but more importantly up-to-date registration means you have insurance and you've passed emissions tests with the Department of Environmental Quality,” Schafer told the Mercury

At the February budget work session, Williams said “having additional parking enforcement officers on the ground” looking for compliance at the meter provides another “set of trained eyes and ears for situations that arise on our streets.” 

With parking enforcement officers instructed to patrol non-metered, residential areas that have long been ignored, people may begin to get tickets for common infractions including missing plates ($85) and parking facing the wrong direction against traffic ($55). 

PBOT says officers will also begin stricter enforcement of visibility at intersections. Vehicles taller than six feet in height must park a minimum of 50 feet away from intersections to ensure proper visibility for people crossing the street, or risk a penalty of $85. 

These regulations aren’t new to city code, but with little enforcement over the years, many Portlanders have come to see them as normal. Schafer said PBOT will embark on an information campaign to make these rules clear ahead of time. The decision to issue a citation will be at the enforcement officer’s discretion and may depend on the driver’s history. She added that citations won’t be made on a complaint-basis. 

“Parking enforcement officers are going to go out into the city and look for [infractions],” she said. “We want to see compliance. We aren’t looking to punish.”