Hundreds of Chicago drivers ticketed by mistake

July 17, 2014

To Scott Burnham, spokesman for Chicago Parking Meters LLC, it was just part of a “learning curve.” To 317 drivers, it was a ticket issued for parking legally paid. The motorists had used the ParkChicago smartphone app developed by Burnham’s company but were ticketed anyway, despite still having time on their meters.

chicago skyline with flatiron arts building

The private group that now leases Chicago’s parking system erroneously charged hundreds of motorists with its own app. Image by David Hilowitz.

Burnham blamed enforcement officials who are still getting used to the new technology. Chicago Parking Meters LLC is working to better train the employees, he said. In the meantime, drivers who were cited erroneously can have the tickets waived over the phone by calling 877-242-7901.

Part of the problem, said Elizabeth Langsdorf with City Hall, was “connectivity issues” with the devices that workers use to first check a parking database before issuing tickets to cars without pay box stickers on their dashboards. Currently, the app takes 15 minutes to update the database, a window of time long enough for drivers to receive a ticket even though they’ve already paid.

“This is something we’re working with Verizon on—seeing if a change at the network level will help and potentially changing the enforcement device itself to see if a different one could be more efficient,” wrote Langsdorf in an email.

The problems didn’t surface during the app’s one-month trial period in the spring. Tested on a few hundred parking spots in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, it drew more than 3,500 downloads and 1,600 users. Since its official rollout to 36,000 metered spaces citywide two months ago, the app has registered almost 50,000 more users, with roughly 8,000 payments made daily through the app.

Mobile payment was one of the key features in the revisions Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed last spring when renegotiating the city’s much despised 75-year, $1.2 billion contract with Chicago Parking Meters LLC. Brokered by Emanuel’s predecessor, the lease allowed the company to increase the city’s parking prices to the highest in the country, earning the firm handsome profits: $135.6 million in 2013.

In an attempt to make “the best out of a bad situation,” as the mayor has described the contract, the app was meant to make parking more convenient for drivers. Instead of having to walk back to their cars, drivers could instead pay by phone.

But the app has caused greater headaches. Since receiving one of the flawed tickets, Brett Gordon says he’s been reluctant to use the app again. “Since then I’ve just gotten paper receipts from the meter,” he said.

But Burnham notes that, of the 8,168 tickets issued since the app debuted, the 317 that were incorrectly cited yields the app an error rate of less than 1 percent. “This is a transition issue and, once resolved, should help to reduce errors even more,” said Langsdorf.

Until the city and Chicago Parking Meters LLC work out the kinks, however, all tickets that were issued to users of the app have been thrown out.

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Category: Parking Tech

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