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Stuck Between a Meter and a Hard Place

Image by David LaBua

Hi David,

I'm so glad to have found you. Bought your book, read it. Learned a lifetime’s worth from it. Downloaded VoicePark and can’t wait until the pilot project is over and it expands citywide. I now feel like I’m fully equipped to navigate the world of parking.

When I parked a few weeks ago you would have been proud of me. I read the signs applicable to my car, I checked the curb, and I read the restrictions of the meter at which I was parked. Then I used PaybyPhone to pay.

Here is my situation. I paid by phone for 100 minutes. When one pays using PaybyPhone, the parking meter does not reflect the amount of time for which one has paid. I’ve been told that this is true, and that the parking police have access to the PaybyPhone data and will see that I did pay, so I should ignore the fact that the meter shows “expired.”

Well, when I returned after 90 minutes, I found a ticket for “expired meter.”   I contested the ticket, thinking that they would see their mistake and that the record shows my paying by phone, but I received a response stating that the ticket was valid and I had to pay. I then took the time to get the records of my payment by calling the PaybyPhone company in Canada.
 
They looked up my record: yes there was a payment, not for 100 minutes, but for 1 minute. The woman I spoke to said it should not have confirmed for 1 minute. I requested something from her in writing. She said that they could not provide this. I then wrote another letter to SFMTA along with the citation explaining. I enclosed a copy of my PaybyPhone history showing my regular usage. End result? A response from SFMTA, “Pay $83.00. And if you don’t, penalties will be charged.”

Looking forward to hearing your opinion on the citation. Thanks again for all you contribute!

Sincerely,
 
Stuck Between a Meter and a Hard Place
 
Dear Stuck,

Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad that you feel better equipped to find parking and to avoid getting a ticket, but, as you know, even being well equipped sometimes isn’t enough. Sometimes it is our human error that results in receiving a parking ticket such as misreading a sign, or forgetting to curb our wheels because the street seems flat. Or when we have so much going on, many of us can easily forget what day or month it is….oh…that’s just me? Well, regardless, sometimes we make mistakes that result in a parking ticket.

In your case, however, you really did do everything in your power to follow the rules, and the mistake was not of your doing. When one pays by phone, the fact that the meter doesn’t reflect the payment can be confusing, and requires trust that the system will work. Your paying by phone for just one minute at the meter is not logical (unless a DPT officer was right there with their hand on their hip, and you were coinless and wallet-less, which was not the case in this instance). PaybyPhone’s acknowledgement that the system should not have allowed just one minute to be paid for also indicates that there was a bug in the system.  
 
SFMTA is aware that no system is perfect. They hand out over 1.3 million tickets per year, so each response contesting a ticket cannot possibly be given a huge amount of time and attention. I think that yours got lost in the shuffle. I think that your situation can be easily resolved on a human level and can be helpful in identifying and fixing a bug. I recommend that you request a hearing with an administrator (early morning times require very little waiting to be heard) and present your situation. I have no doubt that you will be given the time and attention that you deserve, and that your ticket will be dismissed with their apologies. That will most likely result in a bug being filed to try to figure out what happened.
 
For those of you wanting just the nuts and bolts, that’s the end of the post.  However, this situation, the morning light, and my second cup of coffee have all conspired to create some further reflection.

With regards to technology, we are in the 21st Century version of the Wild West. There is so much happening so fast. Technological development is all done with great intentions, to make life run more smoothly and more efficiently for all of us. But, in the early stages of integration of any large change into any system, it usually takes a few rounds to make things flow smoothly. 

With regard to parking technology specifically, the goal of each separate piece of technology is to make that particular aspect of parking add convenience to the whole. My goal in founding VoicePark was not to just make one aspect of parking more efficient, but to create dialogue, relationships, and partnerships that would result in a fully integrated parking system so that it actually becomes so intuitive that it is invisible. Every aspect of the parking experience is transformed into an effortless, efficient, and sustainable experience.

Here’s a plausible example: This morning, when you went into the shower, turned a handle, and hot clean water came out for you to use, did you stop to reflect on the incredibly complex system involved that resulted in clean, hot water on demand coming out of a pipe, and the used water then being ported to be treated and released back into the environment when you were finished? Probably not. That’s because it is a well thought-out system that took a little while to integrate all of the parts needed to make the system work seamlessly.

My vision of parking is the same. The VoicePark system that we have designed incorporates real-time location, the nearest parking location available, parking restriction times and laws, vehicle telematics, predictive traffic and movement algorithms, voice guidance, and several other crucial pieces needed to make finding a parking place effortless. Integrating our system and the systems of our partners into the larger municipal infrastructure, is not only possible, but actual…it’s just not fully integrated yet.

However, after a few years of many parking technology companies working independently to perfect their systems, the time has come for these technologies to integrate and work together, and the entire parking experience from A to Z, sooner than you might imagine, will be as invisible and effortless (and absolutely incredible) as this morning’s shower was. Stay tuned.

David LaBua is a leader in the sustainable urban mobility movement, author of Finding the Sweet Spot and founder of VoicePark, the world’s first voice-guided mobile parking app.