No, Motorists Cannot Put 'Smart Boot' On Other People's Cars

The 'Smart Boot'
Apparently the "Smart Boot" people are one bootstep ahead of us. The devices are just like the boots you'd find, say, immobilizing Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's 1993 Jeep Wrangler. But instead of requiring an employee of the Municipal Transportation Authority to come out and unlock your car, the unfortunate motorist can pay off his or her debt electronically, then punch a secret code into the Smart Boot and remove the device.

Last week, Oakland became the 14th city in the nation to ink a pact with the PayLock company, which manufactures the Smart Boot. Bart Blair, the company's director of account management told SF Weekly that PayLock has had discussions with San Francisco, too.

And yet, the first thing we thought of when we heard about the nifty devices was the joy of clapping a Smart Boot on a pal's car. Or clapping it on just about anyone's vehicle, and extorting money out of them. But, like we noted before, the company is one bootstep ahead of us. You just can't do this.

"There's a special arming code that only the booting officers have," said Blair. "If [members of the media] don't ask that question, we don't volunteer it."

Sadly, for all mischievous types, PayLock didn't have to produce a set of early Smart Boots susceptible to hours of joyous ribbing and/or extortion to figure this one out. "No, we did nail that before we started," Blair notes.

The other question he's peppered with most often is what happens to somoene who doesn't expediently return the Smart Boot? The answer to that is you're billed $25 a day with a ceiling of $500 -- the replacement cost for a boot.

Since Oakland has began towing the cars of drivers who've amassed more than five parking tickets instead of booting, PayLock's claim that their device is a cheaper and more convenient alternative for the East Bay city has some merit. Rather than paying off your tickets downtown, then heading over to the police records department to shell out more cash, then settling matters at the DMV and then heading down to the tow lot down by the Coliseum (all without your car), you simply make a phone call any hour of the day, pay up, and unlock your car.

It's unclear how, exactly, the numbers would add up for San Francisco and the city's motorists. It would certainly be easier for drivers -- see the rigmarole of removing a city boot here -- but might cost more. Currently, San Franciscans must hand over $245 to remove a boot (up from $205 earlier this year). Oakland drivers, meanwhile, pay $140 to PayLock and a $125 administrative fee to the city (the city doesn't pay for PayLock's services, and the company owns all the boots -- so this is how they make their cash).

As we all know, Einstein proved that time is money. The question is, then, how much is your time worth? In the meantime, San Francisco drivers can stave off having to answer this question vis-a-vis a booting if they don't let five outstanding parking tickets pile up.

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