The ticketbusters

A start-up that helps drivers fight parking tickets puts the spotlight on Jerusalem’s severe parking problem.

Cars line a Jerusalem street (photo credit: HABATLAN PR)
Cars line a Jerusalem street
(photo credit: HABATLAN PR)
Much has been written about the differences between staunchly secular Tel Aviv and the Holy City of Jerusalem. But there is one thing that plagues both cities equally: a severe shortage of parking spaces – and the attendant scourge of multitudinous parking tickets, issued by merciless enforcement officials.
In the capital, the phenomenon has reached international proportions. In New York City, for example, the percentage of the Big Apple’s income from parking fines hovers around 1 percent, whereas in Jerusalem, this figure is nearly twice that (1.89%).
The figures are astounding: Some 375,000 parking tickets are issued every year in Jerusalem – a rate of approximately 1,400 tickets a day. As a result, the municipality is projected to collect a whopping NIS 50 million from parking fines alone in 2015.
Moreover, in Jerusalem, the specter of an unpaid parking fine can haunt you for years. One Israeli recently returned from living abroad was greeted with the shocking discovery that the Jerusalem municipality had placed a lien on his bank account, to collect on a parking ticket issued in 2011. It made no difference that the rental car had been parked in a space not easily discernible as illegal – and that to be on the safe side, the driver had displayed prominently a placard bearing the international handicapped symbol.
Naturally, the amount of the original fine – plus penalties and interest – had skyrocketed. (The bureaucratic saga of finding out how to even pay the fine – since it was no longer even in the city treasury’s computer – could easily be the subject of an entirely separate article.) Nowadays, the fines even start off at astronomically high prices. A ticket for parking on a sidewalk in Jerusalem is NIS 500. Imagine: One single parking ticket costing nearly 5% of the average Israeli monthly income.
The numbers also paint a depressing picture for the future. The Jerusalem Post reports that while the city’s budget is earmarking NIS 1 billion for “infrastructure and transportation,” according to the start-up Habatlan, only NIS 1.5m. is being slated for improvements to the city’s parking infrastructure. Habatlan further points out that in 2015, Jerusalem is planning to spend only 3% of its income from parking fines – or a paltry 0.0003% of the city’s overall budget – on possible solutions to a problem that affects so many residents and commuters.
When faced with this kind of indifference, frustrated Israeli drivers could hardly be blamed for wanting to fight back. And now they have an ally, as accessible as the Internet: Habatlan (lit., the Nullifier) – “the experts at quashing parking tickets.”
Habatlan ( is the brainchild of Yahel Kaplan, a recent law school graduate with a specialty in social entrepreneurship. He founded Habatlan last year, with the aim of “fighting back vigorously” on behalf of mistreated motorists.
“We conducted a lot of research,” says Kaplan, “and found that many people were getting ticketed indiscriminately.
Some were even paying for their parking using Pango – yet were still being victimized by the system.
“We have developed a platform on which the ticketed motorist and our team work together to construct a defense,” Kaplan explains. “The system walks the client through the process of selecting grounds for contesting the ticket, then creates a petition [bakasha] seeking its dismissal.”
For the nominal fee of NIS 15, the client gets a copy of the document, which is carefully formatted and worded to be acceptable in a court of law. There are also the seamless options – highly recommended – to upload photos, or incorporate Google Maps’ street view.
Habatlan even submits the paperwork to the authorities. And if the initial request is denied, the price also includes an appeal of the rejection.
So far, the company claims, it has a 20% success rate in contesting parking citations, saving motorists a total of nearly NIS 30,000.
But Habatlan wants customers to know that the site is not in the business of dispensing legal advice.
“We provide a professional service concerning a matter of legal procedure,” insists Lior Zeitouni-Elert, the company’s CEO. “It is an important distinction to make.”
According to Zeitouni-Elert, Habatlan’s mission is simply to level the playing field for the average citizen, who is up against an indifferent City Hall.
“We are not encouraging scofflaws,” he maintains. “But there has to be a balance between order and chaos, which is what reigns now.”
The company’s research found that while many cities in the world earmark moneys earned from parking fines to improve parking infrastructure, this is not the case in Israel.
“The money the cities earn from parking fines goes into the general coffers,” notes Zeitouni-Elert. “Along with fairer enforcement of the laws governing parking, we would prefer that the moneys earned from fines go to ameliorating the parking situation.”
Given the profligate manner in which Israeli cities like to dole out parking tickets, it is likely Habatlan will be coming to the aid of quite a few people. •