Thursday, September 10, 2009

stubborn, principled, or just plain dumb?

Let's say, just for argument's sake, that you went downtown and obediently paid for two hours of parking, had a great lunch/meeting with a friend/colleague, returned to your car an hour and 53 minutes later, and found a parking ticket on your windshield, time-stamped 25 minutes earlier, stating that you have committed a parking infraction and are hereby fined $30.

And let's say that the three options you are given are to 1) pay the fine, 2) a second option of which I don't recall the details but which also involved paying the fine, or 3) dispute the charge, which means requesting a court date. No other options.

Now, let's imagine for a moment that you're kind of ticked at receiving a parking ticket that is so obviously inaccurate, and you really don't want to pay it. But at the same time, going through the hassle of disputing it will take more time and energy, as well as gasoline, to get down to the "parking tag operations" office to dispute the claim in person. Surely that time and effort is worth more than $30.

And yet... the "conspiracy theory" part of your brain starts kicking into gear... isn't this just a great scam? A bit too convenient? Write obviously erroneous parking tickets, calculate how many people will pay up just because that's the quickest and most convenient option, and - presto - new income for the City of Toronto! Can (should) they really get away with that?

With such thoughts rolling through my head, I drive down to the "Parking Tag Operations" office (yes, it's true, as you've astutely guessed... this situation is not as hypothetical as I've made it sound) and look for a parking spot. A very popular and busy building, it seems, with - you guessed it - only paid parking. So I'll need to pay for parking to go to an office to dispute ANOTHER parking ticket, which was so obviously and comically erroneous that I'm beginning to seriously suspect that the minute I park (and pay) someone is going to write me ANOTHER spurious ticket, just to add to the fun.

Forget it. I'm not paying for parking to dispute my parking ticket. So I drive around the neighbourhood, looking for a street where I can park for free and walk a few blocks. After a few circles and (illegal?) U-turns, I find a spot. I think. It's not clearly marked.

Great. If I park here to dispute my parking ticket, I might get an even bigger ticket... or get towed away...

Too late for debate. I'm committed now. Hold your breath, park the car, walk briskly down the street and into the building.

Into a room, steaming with humanity and signs instructing me to take a number and wait in line. Another opportunity to do the calculation of whether this is all worthwhile... and then a tired-and-irritated looking man (actually, we all look tired-and-irritated) said "parking ticket?"


"You don't want to be here. Go down the hall and turn left."

"Oh... thanks," and, hope restored, I walk down the hallway.

Only to enter another room, with another, slightly less dense, steaming mass of humanity waiting in line. All - every single one - to dispute a parking ticket.

OK. This is getting sillier by the moment. It's 30 bucks, after all. Cut your losses and get out of there.

But no, I'm in too deep now. I've got to see this thing through.

So I stand, and wait, and wait... And wait. I notice a stack of "Notice of Intent To Appear" forms, which everyone else has. So I grab one and fill it out, and begin lending out my pen to various other folks to do the same. Surveying the room, I can identify various folks visibly farther down the road to "blowing a gasket" than me... including some who start muttering and uttering rude and insulting remarks, speaking threateningly of "linejumpers," playing to the crowd with comments about "stupidity" and "incompetence"... Others wait quietly and long-sufferingly...

My self-righteous-and-principled indignation begins to dissipate as I read the various signs alerting me that intimidating behaviour, shouting, profanity, etc. is not to be tolerated and may result in not being attended. And I start to look at the folks on the other side of the glass entirely differently, thinking how much I would HATE to have their job... how depressing this must be, to come to work and deal with masses of tired-and-irritated people like me, all day, every day.

As the sounds of people arguing about the inanity of this-and-that roll on, and the man in front of me explains to me why he's disputing his $450 ticket, I'm feeling more foolish by the minute. I compare my $30 ticket to the struggles and dangers of people dealing with real injustices at the hands of official-dom all around the world... I resolve not to cause any problems or delays - just hand the lady my form, get my receipt-or-whatever-it-is, and go. After all, this is already taking WAY longer than I expected, I'm hoping my car won't get towed, and I don't know how I'm going to get the day's stuff done before I have to get back and make supper.

As I'm jogging back down the street toward (hopefully) my parked car, I realize that I forgot to ask my question: "The times on this parking ticket, and on my receipt, clearly show that I did not in fact, commit a parking infraction. Do I really have to go to court to dispute this? Can't I show it to someone, and they'll dismiss it, and we'll save the whole system a big hassle?"

Can't believe I forgot to ask that. How stupid of me. As stupid as... as... as a traffic cop having a bad day and misreading the time-stamp on the parking receipt on somebody's dashboard...?

The car was still there, with no ticket flapping under the windshield wiper.

And then I discover, 4 days later, as I write this blog post and check a website or two, that "You may discuss your concern regarding the issuance of the ticket with a counter staff member, who has the authority to... (among other things)... withdraw the charge under certain circumstances."

Boy, do I feel dumb now.

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At 11:09 AM, Blogger Annette Faye said...

I love this story, Bryan. I think we've all been there at one point.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Caleb said...

Great Story Bryan. I really had a good chuckle and a great message!

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Bryan Moyer Suderman said...

Glad you like the story... and I'll keep you in mind in case they set a court date for a time when I'm on the road... maybe you can appear on my behalf! (GRIN)...


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