I heard on the radio Monday that the New York City Council had just overridden Mayor Bloomberg’s veto on the proposed 5-minute grace period for parking enforcement. The mayor thinks it will be hard to enforce and confusing. The citizens and the City Council have this to say:
Residents have long groused about what they say are overzealous traffic agents who rigidly hand out tickets without any chance for a reprieve. Some believe that the tickets are part of a push by city officials to squeeze as much revenue from any and all sources, at a time when the city is staring at a multi-billion dollar deficit.
The traffic agents (New York City uses a civilian force to write parking tickets) may be overzealous, indeed, but a “grace period” will change nothing in that regard. If you think you have 45 minutes on the meter, and come back in 47 minutes to see an agent placing a ticket under your wiper... will it really be any different if you think you have 50 minutes and come back in 52 to the same scene?
Limits of any sort — deadlines, tolerances, room capacities, and such — are somewhat arbitrary, but if they’re to be enforced there must be a definition of the enforcement point. If we codify any sort of “grace”, then the inclusion of that grace defines the new limit, subject to the same complaints of zealotry as before. We may say that a room can hold up to 110 people, and stop the 111th from joining, and you may say, “But it’s only one more; surely that’s not going to hurt anything.” OK, so let’s suppose we don’t enforce it until there are more than 115 in the room. Well, now, 116 is only one more. Surely that will be OK as well.
We're only fooling ourselves to define a grace period, and it will actually turn out to benefit no one — not the city, and not the residents. Once people are used to it, they'll overstay their deadlines just as before, and they'll complain about the enforcement, just as before.