The Barnacle, a device that its inventors say could replace the steel boot for parking scofflaws’ vehicles. (Photo by ADVOCATE NEWS SERVICES)

Could the Barnacle replace the boot? New device sticks to parking scofflaw’s windshield

  • Sep. 15, 2017 8:50 a.m.

The latest tool in the battle against parking scofflaws is a device that looks as harmless as SpongeBob SquarePants but sticks to an offender’s car like a barnacle.

Hence, its name: the Barnacle, a parking enforcement device that its inventors say could replace the steel boot.

Both devices are intended to immobilize a vehicle until the owners pay outstanding tickets. The boot goes on a wheel. The Barnacle attaches to an offender’s windshield with giant suction cups and blocks the driver’s vision. If you try to tamper with it, the device sounds an alarm. Even if you break the shell, its twin suction cups keep holding on for dear life, or at least for payment, as one unhappy Pennsylvania motorist found out. It even comes with a GPS device in some models that will help the law track you down.

Jon Haney, who is scofflaw supervisor (actual title) at the Allentown Parking Authority, spoke glowingly of the thing.

“If you’ve ever seen a glass company truck driving down the road and seen workers carrying glass panels with those suction cups they put on them – it’s a very similar concept,” Haney said.

Haney said the device has been a hit with parking enforcement officers. The Barnacle is lighter than the solid steel boots that attach to a scofflaw’s vehicle – about 15 pounds vs. 30 or more for the boot, Haney said – and it can be applied more safely and easily. Attaching a solid steel boot often means bending down, or almost lying on the street to get the thing on, usually on the traffic side of a parked car.

“It makes [parking enforcement crews] somewhat vulnerable,” Haney said.

None of the agency’s 10 parking enforcement officers has been injured – other than some scraped knuckles on asphalt, Haney said – but why take chances? The Barnacle can be applied from the sidewalk; a coded keypad locks the suction cups into place.

The Barnacle has a maniacal grip, Haney said. One scofflaw did manage to break off the yellow shell but discovered that those suction cups weren’t coming loose until the ticket was paid.

“I like to say in that instance, that the Barnacle lost the battle but we won the war,” Haney said. He said so far, no one has been brave enough, or foolhardy enough, to drive off Ace Ventura-style with his head out the window.

Of course, people still haven’t learned that it doesn’t pay to tamper with the sturdier-looking boot, either.

“People try that all the time,” Haney said. “Generally, we’ll come back to a vehicle and find the boot’s in a different position because they’ve yanked on it, pulled on it, kicked it, tried to move the car to see what they can do.”

One scofflaw decided to try to drive off with a boot on.

“He’s going down the road with sparks flying,” Haney said. “He did okay until he tried to make a turn, and then the car just went straight and crashed.” Police took care of the rest.

In Allentown, parking scofflaws risk getting booted by letting just a single ticket go unpaid for 46 days or more. Whether they get the boot or the Barnacle, they have to pay the outstanding fine and a $50 booting fee before the device comes off.

“It doesn’t pay to get tickets. It’s much easier to park legally,” Haney said.

And speaking of understatement, there’s this sentence from Ideas that Stick, the Barnacle’s manufacturer: “We know that most people resolve their parking violations on their own, but some need a more compelling method of ensuring they pay their debt,” its website says.

The Allentown Parking Authority has been using the device as part of a pilot program that began in August 2016 and will end later this month, Haney said. Each device set the agency back about $600; it’s $12 per device per month if the GPS option is added, he said.

The device has been written up by CityLab and others. With each new hit of media exposure, the city parking agency receives more calls and emails from other jurisdictions inquiring about the device. Haney said he couldn’t recall if Washington, D.C.’s city government had shown interest, but he most recently heard from Singapore.

As the world spirals toward apocalypse at times, it’s good to remember that some people have their noses down, focused on such gritty topics as enforcing parking laws with a newfangled device. But will it catch on?

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