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New windshield blocker could give the boot to the parking boot

Parking scofflaws in Allentown are facing a new enforcement tool that its makers hope could replace the boot as the go-to device for immobilizing automobiles. And if it proves effective, the Philadelphia Parking Authority may bring it here.

The Barnacle looks a bit like a big yellow, unfolded briefcase when opened over a car windshield. It is attached with two suction cups secured with a pump,  and secured with 750 pounds of force. The plastic shield grips the windshield and blocks the driver's view until removed either wirelessly or with a keypad on the device.

For motorists with a rebellious bent, Kevin Dougherty, president of New York-based Barnacle Parking Enforcement, warns that trying to drive with a head out the driver's-side window to avoid a windshield obstruction is both illegal and harder than it looks.

"If you ever actually try to drive that way, it's physically very difficult," he said. "Cars are designed to keep you in."

If a driver remains determined to flee the scene, the Barnacle has an alarm system that sounds if the device is tampered with or it detects movement, Dougherty said.

The device is designed to be easier to attach than boots, which date to the 1940s, Dougherty said. Unlike the boot, which locks on to a tire, the Barnacle won't require parking enforcers to kneel to attach it.

Attaching a boot also sometimes requires staff to stand in traffic to attach it if a car is parked too close to a curb. With this device, that won't be a problem. It also folds to a size thinner than a boot, Dougherty said.

"It's lighter, much faster --  it's easier," he said.

The Allentown Parking Authority began a pilot program in August with five donated Barnacles and the devices got a lot of "quizzical looks" from drivers, said Jon Haney, the authority's scofflaw supervisor.

"It's very new," he said. "No one's ever seen anything like this."

Parking authority workers like the new, lighter replacement for boots, Haney said, but the pilot program will run through at least next year before Allentown commits to buying the devices.

"We'd really like to take this test through a Northeast winter," he said.

The device could be less effective on a windshield that has snow on it, Haney said.

The Barnacle does offer convenience for drivers, too, Dougherty said. Instead of having to pay for a violation at a parking authority building and then waiting for a parking official to remove a boot, which can take hours, drivers can pay their fine through a phone either with a call or an app and the suction cups will wirelessly be signaled to release their grip.

Paying a fine and getting on the road could take minutes, Dougherty said, and it saves the parking enforcement entity the trouble of sending a vehicle out to remove the device.

A driver can store the Barnacle in a vehicle's trunk and must return it to the parking authorities in 24 hours, Dougherty said.

As with a conventional boot, a record will be created when a Barnacle is attached to a vehicle. A person who fails to return the device would be charged an additional fine, Dougherty said.

"It's potentially stealing government property," he said.

And by the time the device is deactivated, he noted, the authorities would have the driver's credit card number.

The Barnacle is also being tested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is selling for $600, Dougherty said, a price he described as comparable to a boot.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority is familiar with the device, said Martin O'Rourke, the authority spokesman, and has looked at adopting it, though he said there had been only informal contacts between PPA officials and Barnacle Parking Enforcement.

"They'd love to see the results from Allentown," O'Rourke said of the PPA, "especially if it's more cost-effective and easy to use."