An Open Letter to City Center Parking

Andrew Marshall
Jun 8, 2016 · 4 min read

Dear City Center Parking (cc: Pacific Audit Solutions),

On October 19th, I found myself on the receiving end of a parking ticket at your Broadway and Couch lot, where I frequently park. Since I had paid to park in your lot, I must confess that at first I felt like the victim of a grave injustice. I now understand how just wrong that initial assessment was. Please accept this detailed account of what happened on that day as my apology to you, the hard-working team members of City Center Parking and Pacific Audit Solutions.

On the afternoon in question, I drove into City Center Parking Lot #91, which is across from my favorite sushi restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Having parked in this lot numerous times in the past, I was no stranger to your standard parking protocol. Upon arrival at the kiosk, I entered my license plate number per the instructions from your automatic machine, followed by my payment of $5 for an evening of parking. I then proceeded to place my parking receipt face up on my dashboard, also per standard procedures.

Side note: I have heard, and reject, the flawed argument “it’s redundant to require customers to both enter their license plate number into the machine AND make a valid/paid receipt visible on the dash. Why? Well, could the state of Oregon mistakenly issue multiple license plates with the exact same number? Sure they could. Could two cars with identical license plates then both park in your lot at the same time? Yup. Most importantly: could the owners of these two cars conspire to only pay once? In this era of corrupted morals, you’re damn right they could.

Back to the story. So far, I had noticed nothing out of the ordinary with my parking experience. It was only when I placed the receipt on my dashboard that I noticed something had gone terribly wrong with your parking machine! To my horror, despite entering in the correct license plate number (let’s just call it HT66512) in your machine, only first four digits, “HT66”, were printed on the receipt!

Immediately, I was filled with self-doubt. Could I have entered the first four digits of my license plate, and for some reason just stopped entering numbers? After all, machines are engineered to be infallible, and this one was designed specifically for printing the exact same number the user entered. Was this my fault?

Already late for sushi, time was a factor and my self-reflection had me no closer to solving the issue at hand. Still, I provided myself the luxury of a few more minutes of contemplation, after which I eventually convinced myself that this process failure was most likely not my fault. It seemed pretty unlikely that I had somehow become fatigued by entering numbers into the machine… and then decided (subconsciously?) to stop midway. But now what do I do?

Acutely aware of your parking policies, I considered my options for remediating the situation. I strongly considered paying for an additional receipt with the hope that this time it would print the full number. This option didn’t make financial sense—I was already operating on a pretty tight sushi budget. I also considered using a pen to correct the number on the receipt. This plan was not viable since I had recently vacuumed my car and all the pens typically on the floor beneath my seats had been reclaimed. Both of these strategies were unfeasible.

Ultimately, I decided on the course of action I felt made the most sense. I would simply use the original (flawed) receipt, hypothesizing that the parking attendant would see a valid/paid receipt matching four of seven numbers and take a leap of faith that this wasn’t an elaborate scam of some sort. [I keep my car free of incendiary bumper stickers to gather goodwill for these types of scenarios!]

Fast forward an hour later, satiated by Sushi, I returned to the parking lot. I then realized that my assumption was wrong. Dead wrong.

I was issued a $44 ticket for “Failure to Display Valid Receipt Clear Dash”.

The nightmare scenario had happened. I broke down these seven words in my head. “Valid Receipt.” “Clear Dash.” “Failure.” My mind painted a picture of might have happened…

…the parking attendant noticed the missing three digits and, perhaps drawing directly from his/her training, immediately smelled a rat! They probably surmised this mathematical fact: three missing alpha-numeric characters meant there were 50,653 (!!!) possible license plates out there that could belong to cars with which I was planning the old “parking lot switcheroo”. What, they may have wondered, was to keep me from leaving the lot during the valid timeframe and then passing my ticket to another car with “HT66” in the license plate string? I’m sure the attendant knew, as I know, that a conspiracy such as this could easily have been arranged through a simple DMV records search, a few hours of Googling, and a few phone calls to sort out logistics. Perhaps the attendant had already been stung by an operation like this in the past? As Thomas Jefferson said, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” And as George Bush once famously said, “fool me once….afoolya…don’t get fooled again.”

This was a humbling experience. A learning experience. I must take responsibility for the outcome. This. Was. My. Fault.

You folks at City Center Parking took the time (and spent the money) to add a state-of-the-art-non-human-parking-solution to your lot, and I went and abused it by propagating noncompliance. I’m super sorry.

So anyway, keep up the good work and I apologize for any trouble this may have caused you and your associates at “Pacific Audit Solutions”.


Andrew Marshall

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Andrew is a writer living in Portland, OR. @andrewtweeets