3 California Cities Blocking Parking Ticket App For Being, Like, Way Too Useful

from the apps-apps-apps dept

There’s an app for just about everything it seems, including apps for parking tickets, apparently. One of these apps, called Fixed, is specifically designed to do several things with parking and/or traffic tickets. When you get a ticket, you take a picture of it with your camera on your phone. From there, the app allows you to automate the process of paying the ticket or disputing it. Specifically, by scanning the picture of the ticket you’ve taken, the app will automatically scan the ticket for common mistakes that are made that might invalidate the ticket entirely, at which point you can use the app to lodge your dispute. Sounds incredibly useful, right?

Well, three California cities think it’s so useful that they’ve done everything in their power to block people from using it to dispute or pay their tickets, because that’s apparently easier than getting officers to simply write tickets correctly.

The startup has had issues with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) for some time. The agency was never all that receptive to the service, and the way it automated the ticket contesting process for locals. Using its app, Fixed customers could snap a photo of their parking ticket using their phone’s camera, and then Fixed would check against a variety of common errors before writing a customized letter to the city on the user’s behalf. The app also cleverly tapped into Google Street View to check to see if the city had the proper signage in place in the area a ticket was received. However, even when customers didn’t beat their ticket, the app could help automate the payment without having to use a city’s often outdated website.

Of course, the cities haven’t been welcoming to an app that was aimed at helping locals not pay their tickets by automating the process of jumping through legal loopholes. When Fixed began faxing its submissions to SFMTA last year, the agency emailed the startup to stop using their fax machine. When Fixed pointed out that it was legal to do so, the agency simply shut off their fax.

Keep it classy, San Francisco. It turns out that Los Angeles and Oakland all behaved similarly with respect to Fixed, harrassing and blocking the app and the people using it to the point where the makers of the app simply shut down the parking ticket part of the software in those three cities. This despite the app successfully contesting something like a third of the tickets that users had chosen to dispute using it. Drink that in for a moment. A sizeable percentage of parking tickets were found to have errors on them using this app and, rather than address this by having tickets be properly filled out, the cities in question decided instead to keep people from using the app to contest these error-ridden tickets. It’s hard to imagine how a city might be able to display more contempt for its own citizens than this.

And what’s really crazy about this? The app had as much to do with getting people to pay their valid tickets on time as it did contesting the incorrectly filled out tickets.

“It’s unfortunate that the SFMTA decided to block our service. Over 60,000 parking tickets had been submitted to Fixed. Not only were we helping people beat their unfair parking tickets, but the alerts on our app were helping people pay their parking fines on time and avoid late fees,” [Founder David Hegarty] continues. “Parking Ticket Fines account for 15% of the SFMTA operating budget, and it looks like they objected to us providing some accountability to their process,” Hegarty adds.

Hmm, it’s almost like the city knows it’s collecting money it might not deserve and doesn’t want to let a simple piece of technology stop that gravy train…

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Comments on “3 California Cities Blocking Parking Ticket App For Being, Like, Way Too Useful”

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47 Comments
ottermaton (profile) says:

That's not a feature, that's a bug! (in the eyes of the city)

“…but the alerts on our app were helping people pay their parking fines on time and avoid late fees,”

As anyone with any exposure to any kind of criminal “justice” in this country already knows, the powers that be like it when you pay late. That way they get to extort even more money from you.

No wonder these cities are so pissed off.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: That's not a feature, that's a bug! (in the eyes of the city)

exactly that, just like the scams perpetrated by the LEO gangs EVERYWHERE, but given a little bit of a spotlight in ferguson, ak:
the prison-industrial system must be fed, and how better to feed it than put in place a kafkaesque system where a $20 jaywalking ticket (probably unnecessary in the first place, and almost certainly given to poor/browner people in far greater numbers than others), gets blown up into a couple hundred, a couple thousand, and then you JAIL THEM for not paying these unconscionable ‘fees’…

will The They ™ actually have to take your fillings out in payment, and make lampshades of your skin before you figure out ‘our’ (sic) gummint doesn’t give a shit about 99% of us ? ? ?

WE ARE SHEEPLE TO BE FLEECED so the 1% can buy that second aspen condo, etc…

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

you bring up an interesting point. I don’t know how often mere citizens get ‘charged’ with ignorance of a law being no excuse, but it seems the Supreme Court gave us a very good defence when they told us that the police did not need to know the law in order to enforce what they thought was the law (I still have a hard time understanding what punishment goes along with the breaking of a law that exists only in the mind of some severely uninformed police officer).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ignorance of the law became a valid excuse with the FISA court. Secret laws that citizens can’t know about.

The real issue is very apparent. As long as the public is dumb it is easy for the city to collect part of their operating budget. When a city uses that as part of their plan for an annual budget, it’s not going to get shut down easily. It’s the same sort of problem that red light cameras got into and ticket quotas.

When it reaches this point it is no longer about the law, it’s about getting more money for the city as an additional sneak tax.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Cities using infraction fees for revenue enhancement is not new news.

In other towns stoplight cameras remain a controversy, especially since they cause more collisions, and then states have started varying the yellow-light duration in order to catch more.

The alleged purpose of city ordinances is to sustain the safety, peace and order of the municipal area. But actively impeding people from behaving according to code (either by obfuscating the code, or obstructing obedience or process) is contrary to these purposes.

The city should not be in the business of tripping people up so that they have to pay fees. And there is no other reason that they would obstruct use of an app.

Maybe some officials should be publicly confronted as to why this is happening.

It creates an actively hostile relationship between motorists and the municipalities. Might be a good time to divert tourists from San Francisco by warning them that the town is out to force them to pay arbitrary fines.

Anonymous Coward says:

“the agency emailed the startup to stop using their fax machine. When Fixed pointed out that it was legal to do so, the agency simply shut off their fax.”

Toddlers.

And grossly inconveniencing anyone else regularly using the fax number. “Hi, I’m trying to send you the faxes you requested, but don’t seem to be able to get through, can you let me know if there is a problem with your fax machine?” “Yes there is, we are passive aggressive shits so we turned it off” “Oh, I see, then we should mail the paperwork?” “Yes, fsck off, we’re not here to do our jobs”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not just ‘toddlers’ in the police or court or whomever receives the faxes but in their IT shop as well. Sounds like they’re on a Radio Shack ‘cutout’ machine instead of a high end unit that interfaces with a PC and lets you choose which faxes to print. There’s also WinFax which turns a PC with modem into a fax machine.

Anonymous Coward says:

wtf

Lets take a step back from Mike Masnick’s attempted justification to use anyone who plays a sport should give up their personal identification for the common good argument, to more click bait logic.

This about a movement away from finger printed, non-druck drivers, assault free car services to anyone with a car and gas being moved into the new criminal transportation arena.

Teka (profile) says:

Re: A third of the tickets were disputed?

No one actually wants to pay.
The point is that we (all citizens) have a reasonable expectation for the government to handle things according to the proper rules. ( or at least rules written down somewhere)

If a proper parking ticket requires certain information filled out and you receive nothing but a scrap of paper with “F U pay mony” scribbled on it then you should have it dismissed instantly. If it’s supposed to have a reason filled out and the traffic enforcer left it blank then you should have it dismissed instantly.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

One does wonder if they should have shown a pattern in bad ticket writing by specific people. Shame the only penalty for doing so is just having the ticket kicked, and not a ding against the system that refuses to hold themselves to the law.

I wonder how a judge would respond to a plaintiff who got a bogus ticket and then traveled all the way to court because they city shut off everyones access to due process without wasting the courts time. Well I tried to alert them to the ticket being improper your honor but they cut off all of the easy access because they didn’t like this app that showed them how many defective tickets they were writing, and hated that someone held them to the letter of the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder if we can really hedge this all on the city governments and LEO. Might it also be possible that the opposition may be influenced by local bar associations with ties to the municipal government?

While traffic firms aren’t exactly Big Law like Cravath, there is a very solid industry of them, many with franchise-like branding, such as the Ticket Clinic (and California does have Ticket Clinic offices).

With the recent debate on the value of the bar exam for entering lawyers in light of the worst scores ever, defenses against criticisms that state bars should relax rules on the unauthorized practice of law (and some bars even fighting non-legal tech alternatives to lawyers), and the recent debates of reciprocity admissions in NY and FL, it’s becoming more apparent that bar leadership has been creating barriers in order to maintain business and opportunities for established attorneys in their respective jurisdictions, rather than actually concerning the competency of new attorneys or providing novel solutions outside of legal representation.

I can easily see the opposition to this app as a movement by local traffic firms and practitioners (and even national entities, as noted above) to ensure a steady flow of clientele. As mentioned in other comments, the dismissal rate for tickets with this app is something like one third, which is respectable. A traffic attorney might feel threatened at the loss of some easy dismissals.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Solution for the city should be to make an app for the police so they can make correct tickets. Isn’t the real problem that it’s so easy to find errors in a ticket that an app can do it yet the police doesn’t care to improve.

The ultimate decision for a ticket should still be with a human since nobody (humane) would want robocops. But technology is here to make our live easier not to become a new enemy.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is when you know "We the people" is no longer "We"

It is really depressing to continue reading about stuff like this. This shows that we are now ruled by an elitist ruling class who feel we are subservient to them. But it is our fault because we keep electing career politicians and have created this ruling class ourselves. We got rid of the king and crowned our own.

Our government was supposed to be made up of normal citizens who would serve a short term or two and then return to work. We need to get back to that.

Casey (profile) says:

Important part left out of the techdirt writeup of the story

Regarding why Fixed stopped the parking ticket part of the app in those 3 cities:

But in August, Xerox began using a third-party organization to block Fixed from accessing the parking ticket site. While Fixed engineers could still work around the block, it now required an increased amount of engineering time and resources, and this also impacted Fixed’s customer service operations.

For that reason, Fixed decided to end support for parking ticket assistance in these locations.

John Pettitt (profile) says:

SFMTA has a long history of not caring about the public.

This is the same agency that routinely ignores double parking by churches with no statutory basis for doing so but aggressively tickets people who part in front of other non-profits like goodwill. The 1st amendment is not something they are familiar with so it comes as no surprise that they don’t seem to grasp due process or the idea that you might want representation.

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