Lexington, Kentucky may have figured out the impossible: how to make someone feel good about getting a parking ticket. For five weeks over the holidays, the city is letting anyone with a ticket pay it off by donating food to a local food bank.
One $15 ticket can be written off with 10 cans of food, enough to feed a hungry family a couple of meals.
The city started the program last year after reading about similar experiments at college campuses. They also considered trading tickets for toys, something that Boston has tried in the past, but ultimately decided on food. “We chose it because it’s just a basic necessity,” says Gary Means, director of the local parking authority.
Though it’s a common time of year for people to donate to food banks, Means says they always need more. “One of the things I asked is ‘Do you ever get too much?'” he says. “The answer is no. They have such a demand.” If there ever was a surplus, it would be sent to other food banks nearby.
Last year, the program collected over 6,000 cans, and it expects to collect even more this year. It means missing out on some cash for the city, obviously, but it’s a way for an agency that’s usually reviled to garner a little goodwill. Other cities, like a Chicago suburb, have already decided to copy the experiment. In Albany, New York, drivers can use canned food to waive late fees on tickets.
“Most everybody does not get excited about paying a parking ticket, but everybody can feel good about helping the less fortunate,” says Means.