San Francisco is extremely scrupulous about its extremely complicated parking rules.
Parked in the way of street sweeping? Ticket, sometimes in spite of the signage being missing.
Failing to turn your wheels to the curb on a steep hill? Ticket, sometimes regardless of whether the hill’s listed as steep enough to warrant it.
Parking at a “red curb”? Ticket, sometimes even if the paint’s completely faded away.
Yes, the city’s rule-bound when it comes to handing out tickets.
But when it comes to letting people contest those tickets automatically with the new ticket-contesting app “Fixed”, well, it turns out that the city is a bit sloppy, at best, or perhaps even purposefully throwing a monkey wrench into the works, as the app maker has alleged.
Fixed says that the transit authority has gone so far as to turn off its fax machine, depriving the startup of an electronic trail to prove that ticket-contesting paperwork has ever been delivered.
At any rate, given the stakes – big bucks in citation revenues – it should come as no surprise that the app has now been blocked outright in three California cities: San Francisco (where it’s based), Oakland and Los Angeles.
As Fixed co-founder David Hegarty explained to TechCrunch, he created the app after receiving what he thought were several erroneously issued tickets.
After paying for four tickets one morning, he found two more on his car, he said. Here’s what he thought of whether or not he deserved them:
The tickets were complete bullsh*t, and I knew they had been erroneously issued.
So he did some research, found out how to contest parking tickets, and submitted appeals on the two new tickets.
He won: both were dismissed.
Thus was born a ticket-contesting vigilante: he started contesting all his tickets, and he frequently won.
He realized he was on to something. He sure wasn’t alone in being frustrated with the frequency of ticketing, or what’s sometimes unfair or erroneous ticketing.
San Francisco has the most expensive parking tickets in the US.
The current cost: $74 (about £48).
Add up all those tickets, diligently issued 362 days per year, and you get an industry that’s reportedly worth $133 million (about £86 million).
So it’s hardly surprising that cities like San Francisco would balk at making it easy to contest tickets.
Nor is it surprising that somebody would think it’s a good idea to come up with an app to fight back.
Here’s how Fixed works: You take a photo of your ticket and answer a few questions about your driving history. A Fixed agent then analyzes your ticket, looking at Google Street View to check whether the city had the proper signage in place and checking it against a variety of common ticket-issuance errors before writing a customized letter to the city on the user’s behalf.
The Fixed agent then sends a report about the ticket. At that point, if you think it’s worth the money to pay a Fixed attorney – fees now start at $150 – you can engage one. You don’t have to go to court, but you can if you want to. As well, a customer retains the option of going to traffic school – an option that can save him or her getting points added to their driving history.
But the company decided to “pause” that service in September.
As Hegarty told TechCrunch, this had to do with Xerox blocking Fixed from their ticket sites earlier this year – Xerox being the company to which the cities in question have outsourced the Ticketing Operations backend.
Fixed initially alleged that Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco had commanded Xerox to block the app, but on Wednesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency (SFMTA) denied the allegation, sending this statement to TechCrunch:
Xerox has made a security change to their system which no longer allows for mass electronic submissions and payments for all their clients. According to Xerox, this is to enhance internal control and system integrity. This was not a request from the SFMTA. In fact, we have reassigned staff to help support any submissions being made by Fixed and they can still submit protests online or continue to submit paper copies.
Fixed is reportedly still investigating its options, telling Tech Crunch that it has no plans to resume its Parking Ticket service at this time and will instead focus on its growing Traffic Ticket business, which it’s currently expanding outside of California.
The name “Fixed” is a little misleading, to my mind.
It sounds like some sleazy insider trick that lets law breakers off the hook, making legitimate citations just go away, poof! and thereby rewarding people who jeopardize street safety.
Plus, we can’t deny that cities use citation funds to shore up their infrastructures: not a terrible idea.
But it’s not a sleazy insider trick bent on subverting the law. It’s very much working within the legal code.
It’s not a perfect app, mind you, as the reviews on the app stores will tell you.
But its modus operandi is absolutely legitimate: it’s simply streamlining the kludgy process of protesting unfair citations.
That’s pro-consumer, and I can’t see any legitimate, defensible reason why cities would want to block this app.
UPDATE, 16 October 2015: Xerox sent us the following statement:
Fixed has not been blocked from ticket websites in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. What has occurred is that Xerox implemented industry standard Payment Card Industry (PCI) best practices for all our public facing web sites to protect the our system security. The sites no longer allow mass electronic automated system access. Individual payments, protests and other interactions can still be submitted online or through paper copies. This effort was not directed at any one company, but aimed at protecting the overall system infrastructure security for all our clients. The security standards are industry standard applications similar to what you find on many transactional websites, social media sites and newsletter groups to ensure all safety measures for the customer.