Pittsburgh street sweepers may make tickets a snap

Camera-equipped street sweepers soon could make it easier for the city to ticket illegally parked cars on neighborhood streets.
David Onorato, executive director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, said Thursday he is considering affixing cameras to the city's nine street sweepers to make ticketing more efficient and potentially generate more money.

The cameras would record the license plates of cars parked on streets during street cleaning days. A computer automatically would print a parking ticket that would be mailed to the car's registered owner.

Installing the cameras might require changing city code and state law, so they likely wouldn't be installed until next year, Onorato said.

"They would enhance the program," he said.

City law requires parking enforcement agents to shadow street sweepers and issue tickets. Street cleaning officers wrote about 30,000 citations in 2009 by following about half of the street sweepers on a given day. Most residential areas are swept once a month. Neighborhood business districts are swept at least once a week. Tickets for parking on the street during cleaning hours are $15.

Legal and privacy experts say the cameras wouldn't violate people's rights because the cars they capture would be parked on public streets.

"Assuming the cameras are only pointed at the license plates and they register the date, time and location, they wouldn't be a whole lot different from a camera at a toll booth," said Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. "It's a way to gather evidence that can still be challenged."

Car owners should be given a voice in the matter, said Gregg R. Zegarelli, founding attorney of Technology & Entrepreneurial Ventures Law Group, Downtown.

"The use of the information could be beyond what people either desire or what people want from their government," Zegarelli said. "The question is going to be more of a social policy issue. At what point does the public say, 'No, everything should not be recorded' "?

Two years ago, Zegarelli represented a Franklin Park couple who sued Internet giant Google over images of the couple's home on Google's Street View site. Aaron and Christine Boring claimed Google invaded their privacy because their home is located on a private street. A federal judge disagreed and dismissed the lawsuit.

Zegarelli said the case is different because the cars captured by street sweeper cameras would be parked on a public street.

Lillie Coney, associate director of the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the authority must weigh the problem against privacy concerns.

"One of the main points will be making sure that the information is only used for what they say they're collecting it for," Coney said.

Onorato didn't know how much it would cost to buy and install cameras.

Twelve cameras in Washington, D.C., cost $39,000 each, $12,000 apiece to install and $22,000 monthly to maintain, said Linda Grant, a spokeswoman for the city's public works department. Chicago taxpayers paid $7.2 million during the past two years to equip 120 street sweepers with cameras, according to the city's contract with Affiliated Computer Services.
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