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when customers didn’t beat their ticket, the app could help automate the payment without having to use a city’s often outdated website.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...

Filed Under: apps, los angeles, oakland, parking tickets, san francisco, sfmta
Companies: fixed


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  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 6:49am

    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...
    This sentence summed up the reasoning perfectly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ottermaton (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 8:28am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 8:40am

      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 (tm) 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...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 8:41am

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

      If it's good enough for shady payday loan companies, it's good enough for California's public officials.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:42am

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

        You guys are using script blocking and ad blocking on this site I hope. I registered 15 blocked data tracing sites here.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    limbodog (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 8:42am

    Techdirt succeeds again in making me sad.

    Having said that, who does one contact in the city of SF for an official complaint?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SteveMB (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 8:43am

    the makers of the app simply shut down the parking ticket part of the software in those three cities

    Their next project ought to be to write an app to implant spines and scrub the yellow stripes off their backs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 8:53am

      Re:

      That would be considered assaulting an officer and apparently is punishable by immediate death. Once they fear for their lives, lethal force is perfectly fine and by hiring only cowards, lethal force is always an option.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TKnarr (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 8:54am

    Keep the app up, just have it email the dispute letter to the user and let them mail/FAX it in. Let the city try to argue that people are entitled to dispute the tickets but they aren't entitled to use the city's process for disputing a ticket. Even local judges aren't going to fall for that one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:17am

      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).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:32am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 15 Oct 2015 @ 5:20pm

        Punishment for laws imagined by law enforcement

        I hear summary execution by six or seven gunshots is a common penalty for such infractions.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 2:58pm

      Re:

      What would be awesome is if some rich person would set up a fax/delivery service and let people PUMP out tickets to a fax machine just across the way from the government dept. offices.......hint...hint....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:05am

    Ignorance of the law is not an excuse - unless you are a meter maid or police officer. Then just a best effort is required or even just make it up. What the heck!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:16am

    It's almost as if the government considers illegal activity to be a revenue source rather than something to be stopped.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 15 Oct 2015 @ 5:44pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:17am

    "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"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:38am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MondoGordo (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:23am

    And the issue is ...

    "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,”

    The app is costing the system money both ways ... late payment + fees is always preferred.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 9:35am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Downtown Business Alliance, 14 Oct 2015 @ 11:09am

    We really do not understand why people do not visit our many wonderful downtown places of business. There are many top tier restaurants, stores and places of entertainment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 1:38pm

    Soooo... why don't they have an app written that writes out a proper ticket??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 1:57pm

    Postal Mail

    Is there anything that would prevent the scuzzbuckets who park illegally from printing out the letter from the app, and then mailing it to the agency? Sure, it's not as fast as a fax, but it still works.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 1:58pm

    A third of the tickets were disputed?

    That sounds like a lot, but how many of these were contested on legal grounds versus "I don't want to pay it".

    If most of these were disputed on legal grounds, then the city has a larger problem than just the app. In fact, why isn't the media picking up on this issue?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Teka, 14 Oct 2015 @ 3:43pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 2:08pm

    I'm sorry I didn't read the story. TL:DR I live the story and have used my car to move place keepers out of my way since the 1990s.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 4:15pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 4:54pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Oct 2015 @ 2:38am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Oct 2015 @ 5:00am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Casey (profile), 15 Oct 2015 @ 8:17am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Pettitt (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 7:56am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 24 Jan 2016 @ 8:20pm

    The issue I have with this app is that it is the unauthorized practice of law. A company that is not a lawyer cannot give legal advice or represent people on legal matters.

    This app does exactly that. Eventually the State Bar or California and similar regulatory agencies in every state is going to block this from getting large.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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