Forget the boot. Latest tool against parking scofflaws is the Barnacle, and it won't let go

It’s called the Barnacle, and for good reason.

The large yellow device clings to a vehicle's windshield with 750 pounds of force from commercial-grade suction cups, thus blocking the parking scofflaw's view. It’s now being tested in two pilot site in the U.S. — Allentown, Pa., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Barnacle can be deployed from the sidewalk, a difference from the device it is trying to replace: the boot, or wheel clamp. Tamara Dolan, executive director of the Allentown Parking Authority, said that while the boot has been effective in encouraging compliance, it typically requires the officer to be hunched over with their back to traffic during installation.

"I've always been looking for another method we could deploy that would still immobilize the vehicle and encourage the folks to pay their ticket yet not be a risk or a danger," Dolan said.

So when she found information online about the Barnacle a few months ago, the parking authority reached out to see whether the company would be agreeable to a trial.

Since that trial started about a month ago, the authority has deployed the device 25 times. The only issue so far has been the occasional need to change the gadget’s batteries.

"It certainly catches the attention of the customer, which is good, so it's causing some conversation," Dolan said.

In addition to the Barnacle, Scofflaw Supervisor Jon Haney said the authority also is still using the boot. On average, he said, the parking authority deploys about 100 boots a month.

The Barnacle is the brainchild of New York entrepreneur Kevin Dougherty, along with co-inventor and chief investor Colin Heffron. The duo started thinking of an idea to improve parking enforcement a couple of years ago and began product development in September 2015, when they founded their company and started the process of bringing the Barnacle to market.

Dougherty said early models of the plastic device weigh 20 pounds, making it easy to transport and store. When the company goes into full production in the next three months in New Jersey, he expects the Barnacle to slim down to about 15 pounds.

In addition, the Barnacle can be deployed from either side of the vehicle and in less than a minute in most cases, he said.

By comparison, the regular solid steel boot weighs 40 to 45 pounds and takes about two minutes to deploy, Haney said.

The Barnacle also has a motorist release feature, Dougherty said, that allows the violator to call a toll-free number listed on the device and pay any fines over the phone, then receive a code they can use to release the Barnacle, which they then return to a drop-off location within 24 hours.

Dougherty realizes that some motivated violators may try to get around the Barnacle by smashing the device or drilling through the windshield.

But, Dougherty said, the Barnacle is reinforced, has a drill-resistant shield and a security feature that prevents access to the suction cups.

There's also one more comical/dangerous scenario that has come up in conversations: The motorist who thinks it's a good idea to stick his or her head out the side window to see around the Barnacle while driving.

Dougherty refers to this move as "The Ace Ventura," reminiscent of actor Jim Carrey's portrayal of the pet detective hanging his head out the window to see where he's going.

Should anyone try "The Ace Ventura," the Barnacle has an alarm on it that will go off — it sounds like a smoke alarm — when it's moved or tampered with, drawing further attention to the motorist — in addition to the already eyecatching visual of a car moving while a giant yellow device is attached to its windshield.

"It's just a bad way to go about things," Dougherty said.

As for the future, it’s unclear whether Allentown or Fort Lauderdale will give the boot the boot for good.

Monique Damiano, public information specialist for the city of Fort Lauderdale, said the city started its 60-day trial on Sept. 23 and has thus far used the Barnacle 15 times.

"Most of the reaction that we're getting from violators is more of a curiosity," Damiano said.

Meanwhile, the device is going over well with parking personnel, who she said enjoy the ease of use, lighter weight and ability to install it from the sidewalk.

Harris writes for the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.

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