If I’m guilty of doing something wrong, like speeding or parking illegally, I have no problem taking responsibility and paying the fine if I get caught. If it’s questionable, then fight it. I’ve done it. I think it’s lame when guilty parties try to get out of paying these kinds of fines. If you know you’re in the wrong, pay it and move on. You know you did it.
But when I’m railroaded into paying a fine even though I did not commit a violation, it results in a feeling of such desperate helplessness. There’s no other choice but roll over and give in because you absolutely can’t win.
The incident I’m going to describe upset me so much that I didn’t even want to write about it — when faced with bad shit, I don’t find it helpful to dwell on it or rant. I just like to move on, fast. But since the City of Philadelphia, in particular, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, has left me with no recourse, I’m doing the only thing I can do, which is to write about it here and hopefully 1) warn you so this doesn’t happen to you if you live in Philly or 2) make you happy that you don’t live here. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Philly, but the Philadelphia Parking Authority system is abysmal and is in desperate need of reform.)
So, here’s what happened.
I live on a block in South Philly that has no parking restrictions. Anyone can park there for as long as they want, even cars with out-of-state plates. This is rare — most blocks in my neighborhood have two-hour parking. (If you have a residential parking sticker, you can keep your car in a two-hour zone as long as you want.)
Since I only use my car twice a week usually, I haven’t bothered to get the residential parking sticker. After all, my block doesn’t require one, and I can find parking on my block almost all the time. I usually leave my car parked on my block for three or four days at a time, which is totally legal to do.
But in January, I was walking Sassy when I noticed a parking ticket on my car. Shocked, I opened it, and it said I violated the two-hour parking restriction. But my block doesn’t have any parking restrictions. Right away I went inside and contested the ticket online, writing a clear and concise paragraph about how I was given this ticket in error. It was $23.
I didn’t hear anything for a few months. During that time, Mike noticed a Philadelphia Parking Authority employee poised to write me another ticket, and I can only assume it was the same person. He asked her what she was doing, she said this car is over the time limit, and he told her there was no time limit. She looked around, realized he was right, and scrapped the ticket. So right there, she sees that writing tickets on my block is a mistake. But it was too late to undo what she’d already done a few months earlier.
(Both times, in January and the second time, other cars up and down the block had tickets, too, so it wasn’t just mine. Was the PPA employee new on the job? Maybe. No idea.)
So, in the beginning of April, I received a letter from the PPA saying my appeal was denied. What?!
Unlike the criminal courts, in which an accused person is innocent until proven guilty, the PPA operates on the opposite principle. If you’re given a ticket, it’s prima facie evidence that you’re guilty — the simple existence of a ticket means it’s accepted that you did it until proven otherwise.
I could contest the appeal, but I’d have to send my request via certified mail. Really, assholes? Certified mail? It gave me 29 days to do so.
Bringing the post office into the fold added a new layer of hell to this. The one in my neighborhood is like eight blocks away, it’s only open Monday through Friday, and it’s always crowded, so I’d have to wait for a weekday in which I could spare at least an hour to walk there, wait in line to send the certified letter, then walk home.
This is where I messed up. I marked it on my calendar, but I put the reminder at 30 days. On the morning of the 30th day, I decided I’d have to make time for this stupid errand and looked at the notice to find out what I needed to include in the certified letter. That’s when I saw I was a day late. Fuck!
I knew I’d have to pay the $23 fine now. Little did I know, it had almost quadrupled on that 30th day.
A few days later, this past Saturday, May 9, I received a mean letter letter saying the time was now $53. Ugh! I grabbed my phone to call and complain to someone, only to see that they’re open Monday through Friday. It’d have to wait.
On Monday, May 11, I received another jerky letter. This one said I owed $91! How did it nearly double between Saturday and Monday?
I called the PPA to get answers. Here’s what I was told:
- My appeal was insufficient. Sure, I wrote a paragraph explaining that my block didn’t have parking restrictions, but I did not offer any proof. So, the hearing examiner went on Google Maps to look at my block to see if he could see any parking signs. He did not see any, but the Google Maps images were taken in 2012, so he deemed them too old to be of use. WHAT?!
Me: So, the hearing examiner works for the PPA. Doesn’t the PPA keep a list of the blocks that have parking restrictions and the ones that don’t?
Unhelpful PPA Customer Service Person: Yes, we do, but it’s not his job to look that up. He can only go on the information you provided in your appeal. He did go on Google Maps, which he didn’t have to do, but the map was too old. You needed to provide evidence that your block does not have parking restrictions.
- So why did I get a thing in the mail on Saturday saying I now owe $53, then get another piece of paper on Monday, two days later, saying I have to pay $91? I received a rambling explanation I didn’t understand, but the bottom line was that the $53 one was an error. It’s not the only error the PPA made here.
Because I missed my secondary appeal deadline, the only recourse I have now is to go through the Court of Common Pleas. In order to file a complaint through the court, I’d have to pay a $200 non-refundable fee. The Unhelpful PPA Customer Service Person gave me the main number for City Hall to get more info. Oh, great! Thanks!
After fuming for a few hours, I decided to call the PPA again. I got another unhelpful person who told me the same thing as the earlier one.
I fully admit to where I screwed up here in missing the secondary appeal deadline. But why was the PPA ticket person unleashed on the streets without knowing her territory? Was she not trained properly, not paying attention, or both?
And what the hell is up with the hearing examiner not willing to verify the information I gave? It wasn’t clear to me that in my appeal I’d need to provide evidence. What did they want? A video? Photos of the block? How would I even do that? I don’t think it was out of line of me to assume that the hearing examiner would look up my block and see that anyone is free to park there for as long as they want.
So, just to make this go away, I paid the $91 this morning. Only — in an extra “fuck you” — I was charged an additional $2.50 for the convenience of paying online. So the total amount of damage because of these motherfucking shit for brains city workers was $93.50.
Because I just know this will happen again, I printed out a form to apply for a residential parking sticker. Granted, I don’t need one to park on my block, but I can’t trust the PPA to know what they’re doing. It’s obvious they have no clue, and they don’t care.
My fellow Philly residents, do you have any fucked up PPA stories?