Friday, January 16, 2009

Enforcing Green Tickets in Boston

A law awaiting signature on Mass. Governor Deval Patrick's desk will make the streets of Boston much cleaner.

The Boston Inspectional Services Department (ISD) issues tickets to those who improperly dispose their trash. If they spot a bag of trash put out on the street on a non-scheduled trash pick up day, they will dig through the bag of trash, find a piece of mail to identify the owner, and write a ticket for the offender. Around the city, they are known as "green tickets." That color ticket is issued by ISD.

It's dirty work, no pun intended, but it is extremely important. Boston residents are notorious for ignoring the rules regarding trash pick up, which are already very generous. Generally, neighbors can put trash on the street after 5 p.m. the day before trash is collected. As pick up begins at 7 a.m. in the morning, this means refuse spends up to 14 hours on the side of the street.

On Beacon Hill, neighbors have proposed innovative programs to restrict the pick-up rules. Many, including your truly, wait until the morning to put out our trash. We have trash pick up three days a week, so these efforts are meant to curtail the significant amount of time that the streets are untidy.

Earlier this decade, The Beacon Hill Civic Association asked the city to enforce what's called "same-day pick up," which means that trash cannot be put at the curb until midnight on the day it's collected. We asked for this within Beacon Hill only. It was an effort I supported and was a part of, but it ended up being a miserable failure.

To my disappointment, many of my neighbors don't mind seeing trash on the street for 14 hours ahead of pick up, despite the obvious advantages of the trash not being there. Despite the BHCA's best efforts, we were unable to inform many residents on the north slope of this program. The reasons for that disconnect would cover several other blog posts.

And, perhaps most importantly, the City of Boston has trouble enforcing the green tickets it issues, and for no fault of its own. There are many reasons why, but a dirty little secret in Boston is if you receive a green ticket (as opposed to an orange parking ticket), you can just ignore it and you will probably not hear about it again. I used to joke with people that the best thing to do with a green ticket trash violation is put it in the trash.

However, my legislators, in particular my City Councilor Mike Ross and my State Representative, Mary Walz, are attempting to solve the green ticket problem. They are pressing legislation that allows the City to connect the green ticket violations directly to property holders. It would allow the city to hold the property holders accountable by placing liens on their properties as a result of unpaid green tickets, similar to how unpaid parking tickets can be attached to eligibility for a driver's license renewal.

The bill is on the Governor's desk this week for his signature, and my neighbors urge him to sign it.

The BHCA is thinking about starting anew with a same-day pick up program. We've learned from our mistakes, and the education effort in the community for this second attempt will be massive. But without more effective green ticket enforcement, it's hard for the city to help us.

Governor Patrick: Please sign the bill.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Governor Patrick did not sign the bill, and it was therefore subject to a pocket veto.

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