There I stood, staring at a credit card machine newly sprouted on the sidewalk near my favorite parking spot across the street from the Star-Telegram building. The familiar one-hour parking meter was gone. I read and reread the directions on the new machine.
Confusing. It felt like the first time I tried to use Facebook. I put coins in (still allowed), and the machine’s digital face gave permission to park for more than the usual hour. Then a receipt popped out.
The print on the receipt stated, “Use sticker on back to attach to windshield.” But the directions on the machine stated that it should be stuck on the curbside window. Which is it? Front window or side?
No matter. The adhesive on the back meant that either way, if I stuck it on the inside glass, the printed side of the receipt would have faced inside the car, not outside as intended. Would the parking police see my expired time and fine me? So I left it on the dashboard instead.
Remember when parking in Fort Worth was simple? You put coins in an all-day meter and parked to your heart’s content. Then the city raised its prices and changed to one-hour, two-hour, four-hour or eight-hour meters.
Even paying tickets isn’t all that easy. Reader Rick Cluck tells me that he tried to pay a Fort Worth parking ticket by phone recently but didn’t feel comfortable when the person who answered asked for his credit card number without offering any other information.
“The first person hung up on me after I asked them to identify themselves,” he says. He called back. “The second person could not go further when I asked, ‘Could we at least reference a ticket number?’ She said she needed a credit card number before she could proceed. And the third person was the same.”
Cluck continued, “No one would identify themselves as an agent or representative to collect for a ticket. Needless to say, asking for a credit card number without providing you any type of additional information reeks of credit card theft. I eventually had enough and just mailed a check.
“Watchdog, I invite you to call the number listed on the ticket pretending to have a ticket and see the results.”
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So I did. I called the number on his ticket bill. It rang into a Western Union call center. My customer service representative said his name was Milo.
“I’m curious, Milo. Where are you located?”
“Right now we’re located in Mexico,” he answered.
Wanting to sort out this brave new world of Fort Worth parking — credit card machines and foreign payment centers — I talked to Peter Elliott, the city parking manager, and other City Hall officials. I learned that Western Union has been collecting payments for Fort Worth ticket payers in Municipal Court since 2008. (Walk-in payments to city collection centers and mail-in payments are still allowed.)
But for Internet and telephone payments, Western Union collects a “convenience fee” on a sliding scale, ranging from $3.95 to $11.95 based on the amount of the payment and which payment option is used (online or telephone).
I told the city parking manager about my sticker confusion. Which window does it go on? He explained that it should go on the side window.
So, I asked, how come the receipt stated to put it on the windshield?
He explained that the vendor for the new machines, called Pay & Display, put the wrong receipt paper in. It’s supposed to go on the side window only.
So, I continued, how do you stick it on the inside window if the adhesive on the back of the receipt would make the sticker face inside the vehicle?
He told me that drivers should bend the receipt so that a small part of the adhesive side is folded over, and that part should touch the glass.
The remaining portion of the printed side of the receipt can then hang off the inside of the window and face outward. Confused yet?
“So why don’t you have a dotted line on the receipt that states ‘Fold here to hang’?”
“That’s something we could look into,” he said.
The more questions I asked, the more I learned.
For instance, the key part of the receipt is the printed expiration time. That’s what the ticket-writers will use as the basis for giving a parking ticket. But get this. Say a driver parks at one spot downtown and then comes back to the vehicle and sees there’s still time remaining on the meter, er, sticker. The driver can drive somewhere else where there’s a Pay & Display machine and park there without buying another sticker. It’s the time left on the sticker that matters, so the time itself is transferable to other spots.
By using coins in these machines, a driver can park for less than an hour. But with a credit card, the minimum time allowed is one hour for $1.25. And almost all Pay & Display machines are the equivalent of two-hour meters. Only a few are one-hour machines.
These machines take any kind of card with a Visa, Master Card or American Express logo, even a gift card.
The Pay & Display machines are situated downtown. There are 80 new machines. Meters remain in other parts of the city.
Yes, it seems complicated, and yes, mock me if you must, but I was confused. I’m sure I’m not the only one. If people get it wrong, they can look forward to talking to Milo in Mexico City.
Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author worked as the award-winning Watchdog columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber