There are some things that only Philadelphia drivers understand. From navigating Center City’s never-ending construction, mastering how to merge onto I-76 during rush hour traffic, and even avoiding small anvils on I-95 (this seriously happened to me), sometimes getting to your final destination can be a test of patience. Unfortunately, the obstacles don’t just end there.

Even though the freedom of driving lets you come and go at your own pace, deciphering parking time slots and arrows on signs isn’t always easy. Plus, even when you’re lucky enough to find a spot, you still run the risk of seeing that white violation envelope under your wipers if you get it wrong.

Philadelphia is a very walkable city. And sometimes, hopping on SEPTA, riding your bike, or navigating by foot makes the most sense for your wallet. But for the rest of the time, in a town known for enforcing parking violations (there was a literal TV show), a guide to parking is a necessity.

So here’s all the information you need about parking, permits, free days, savesies, getting towed, and more.

When you can park for free in Philly

The Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) does not enforce parking meters in business districts or time limits on residential streets on these holidays:

  • New Year’s Day

  • Martin Luther King Day

  • Easter Sunday

  • Memorial Day

  • Juneteenth

  • Independence Day

  • Labor Day

  • Thanksgiving

  • Christmas Day.

Additionally, if you park at a metered spot or in a residential area with time limits, you can park for free overnight after the restricted hours. Be sure to look for signs that detail the times when parking limits are enforced. In many neighborhoods, you can park for free overnight after 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. You just have to make sure you move your car the next morning.

Philly parking apps

There are several parking apps — like ParkWhiz, SpotHero, SpotAngels, and ParkMe — that let you compare garage pricing, reserve a spot, and get access to some discounts. Some also let you buy both daily and monthly parking, or prepay (you’ll get a QR entry pass sent to your phone, or printable from the website). The apps are owned by private companies and available in many other states and cities, too.

The meterUP app makes things easier and allows you to skip the kiosks altogether. You can pay for parking on your phone and in some instances, extend your time slot. The app also alerts you when your time is up and lets you stop your time early. Most kiosks in Center City and University City have a two-hour parking limit which can be extended to three hours or more in the evening.

Get the apps:

Parking discounts in Philly

There are 10 lots and garages operated by PPA, which are, in general, cheaper than private lots. The lots are all in or near Center City, near City Hall, the Convention Center, the Fashion District, Independence Mall, Old City, and the Parkway museums. And they all also offer monthly parking passes.

PPA lots also have reduced pricing during specific hours, like the Old City Nightlife Special, with $7 flat-rate parking every Friday and Saturday after 5 p.m. at Independence AutoPark at 5th and Market Streets, or the Lantern Theater deal at Jefferson AutoPark, where you can park for $5.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, there is an $8 flat fee at all PPA Center City garages on Saturdays and Sundays.

Community Parking Lots

Outside of Center City, check for community parking lots before you go. These lots, in neighborhoods like Brewerytown, Olney, Kensington, Fox Chase, Germantown, Chestnut Hill, Fishtown, and Manayunk, often have lower pricing than some of the other privately owned lots in the area like LAZ Parking, Patriot Parking, and InterPark.

Philly parking culture

Philly has some pretty unique parking traditions. From cones and inanimate objects marking our spots to treating the medians like a driveway, Philly has its own social parking code, which we seem to regard more highly than the city’s regulations. They won’t always get you a parking ticket (but, to be clear, they could), and that keeps the middle-of-the-street parking and chair-savesies alive and well. Here are a few Philly parking “traditions” that you should know when driving in this town:

Parking in the median

In areas like South Broad Street, you’ll find cars parked in the median for several blocks beginning around Washington Avenue and continuing down through South Philly, and, generally, a hands-off approach by the PPA. Philadelphians have been parking in the middle of the street due to limited parking capacity in that area for years.

Using hazard lights

We’ve all been there. We’re behind a car, waiting to accelerate, and then they throw on the hazards and run into a store. In this town, those blinking lights mean that person can be inside for about 15-minutes or less. It’s best to just wait and enjoy what’s left of your day.

Double parking

A Girard Avenue staple, double parking in the lane has become another Philly parking norm that’s widely accepted. Just make sure you don’t block any entrances or walkways.

Reserving a parking spot with a chair

Philadelphia is the city of savesies. Mostly a snow day tradition, people here mark their personal parking space by placing objects like cones and lawn chairs on the street in their parking spot after they’ve done the work of clearing off snow from the ground. While this is largely a snow day thing, it also happens throughout the year, too. As frustrating as it is to see, we wouldn’t suggest moving that cone and parking in that spot. You like your tires inflated, don’t you?

How to get a parking permit in Philly

If you’re a resident, you can get a permit to park on the streets near where you live. And guests without a visitor’s parking pass can park for up to two hours.

You can also get a special permit to park, including if you’re moving, need a visitor pass, or have a disability.

Getting a residential parking permit in Philly

Getting a residential permit parking is the easiest way to park on your street. To apply, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Make sure your street or neighborhood has been approved for permit parking. Check for residential parking signs: They’re always present if you reside on a permit parking street.

  2. Submit an application, proof of vehicle registration and your home address (your driver’s license, your lease, or a recent utility bill in your name). You can apply in person, by mail, or online. Send your application to the Philadelphia Parking Authority (35 N. Eighth St. Philadelphia, PA, 19406) or go Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. You can also apply for the permit and renew it online. Want an application sent to you? Call 215-683-9730.

Cost: Parking permits are $35 a year. The fee goes up with each additional car in your household (second vehicle $50, third vehicle $75, and four or more vehicles $100 each).

Getting a visitor day parking pass and temporary parking permit in Philly

Parking permits are not transferable, but if you live on a permit parking block, you can buy a visitor’s day pass for their area. (If you’re hosting a party, it’s a good option.)

Cost: You can buy a book of five passes for $35, or get temporary permits for $15 (15 days) and $30 (30 days).

Getting a disabled parking permit

To get a disabled parking permit, mail a completed application to the PPA Attn: Reserved Residential Parking for People with Disabilities, 701 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19106. You can request an application by calling 215-683-9746. You will need a physician’s certification of disability from your doctor.

Cost: This permit is free for eligible residents.

Getting a moving day permit

You can get a temporary no parking permit for a moving truck. Once you have sent in your application, you will be contacted via email or telephone with an invoice or a request for more information.

Once approved, you have to print out the receipt and take it to your local Police District Headquarters for a “Temporary No Parking” sign to hang up for your moving day. Be sure to post the signs at least 24 to 48 hours in advance. The worst way to introduce yourself to your new neighbors is by clogging up the street or having them towed.

Cost: The city charges $25 to $50 a day for a 40-foot space (equivalent to two parking spaces).

Getting a street parking permit

If you don’t have approved parking on your street, you can apply for permit parking, which is done on a case-by-case basis. You’ll need to reach out to the PPA and request a petition package, and get at least 60% of the residents on your street to sign it, including renters and owners of apartment buildings. You’ll need to submit it to your local city councilmember, who will send the petition to PPA with a letter of support.

What to do if your car is towed in Philly?

Take a breath, use the curse word of your choice, and look around the area where you last parked your car. Look for violation signs or towing signs to try to figure out who towed your car — both the PPA and private companies tow cars in this city.

  • Check the PPA’s find my towed car database or contact them the Philadelphia Violations Branch at 888-591-3636. You can enter your car’s information here to see if it’s in their towing database. Note that this service is only for cars that are towed by the PPA.

  • If the PPA doesn’t have your car, it may have been towed by a private towing company like Lew Blum or South Philly Towing. In that case, you’ll need to reach out to them directly to see if they have your car. Note that many of the lots only accept cash when picking up your towed car (yeah...).

  • If your car was towed from a snow emergency route, you can call 215-686-7669 for help.

  • Call 311, which should have a database of all (or most) towed cars.

At least this is how it’s supposed to work. It’s worth noting that this is a very frustrating process and involves many phone calls and some non-answers. Unfortunately, that’s the norm with Philly parking.

What is a courtesy tow?

A courtesy tow is when a legally parked car is towed to another area to accommodate things like special events, construction or utility work, or weather. Formally known as “relocation towing,” it’s done by the Philadelphia Police Department Tow Squad, private towing companies, or, in some instances, the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Courtesy tows are not uncommon. Police records obtained by The Inquirer showed more than 2,000 relocations between 2018 and 2020. And they don’t always go well, sometimes resulting in fines and fees, impounding, or just the general inability to locate your vehicle.

If you think your car may have been courtesy towed by the PPA, start by going to philapark.org/tow. You will need to enter information about your vehicle; if it was courtesy towed by the PPA, you should be able to find its location. You can also call the PPA at 215-683-9775.

» READ MORE: Here's what to do if you get a courtesy tow

How to avoid getting a ticket in Philly

In Philly, street parking regulations are different in certain neighborhoods. There are some streets in Center City where you can’t park on them before 10 a.m., and on Passyunk Avenue, you’ll find two-hour parking between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. To avoid violations, there are a few things you should know to (hopefully) keep you from getting towed or a ticket:

  • Read the signs: There are so many rules and regulations to ensure proper traffic flow and access to businesses in certain neighborhoods that reading the signs is a must.

  • Follow the PPA’s Twitter for deals: The Philadelphia Parking Authority’s Twitter account consistently releases information about free parking days, garage discounts, and general information that assists you in being informed about parking in the city.

  • Avoid other violations: You probably know not to park near a fire hydrant, but there are other violations that can cost you, including parking near a taxi stand ($31 fine), parking in a snow route ($51), parked in a school zone ($51) and others.

  • Pay your fines: If you want to avoid a parking ticket or being towed, make sure that your car is up to date with its registration. And if you have the ability to pay off any outstanding tickets, you should.

» READ MORE: Live your best life in Philly: Read our most useful stories here