Monday, March 27, 2017

Nickel and Diming Us

Today's youth has been deprived of many "little joys in life" that us older folk used to enjoy.  They will never know the sense of accomplishment when you would find the one setting for your TV's "rabbit ears" that brought all three channels in clearly without having to constantly re-adjust them.  They have no idea what a "perfect pump" is at the gas station--when you would hit a round dollar amount before heading inside to pay with cash--rather than "pay at the pump" like everyone does now and it really doesn't matter what the total sale is.  And soon, they will no longer experience the happiness that comes with pulling up to a curbside parking meter with time left on it.

The City of Appleton is the latest to move to a smartphone app-based parking payment system.  Instead of getting out the car and feeding change into the meter, you will open the parking app--enter your space number and charge whatever time you think you will need to a credit card or PayPal account already on file.  Instead of cruising along the streets looking for expired meters, Meter Maids--excuse me, Parking Enforcement Officers--instead have a running computer program showing them real-time payment histories and time remaining for every stall.

Of course, the City spins this as a "modern convenience"--claiming that people no longer want the hassle of finding change for the meters--or having to run out and put more money in them to extend their time--as that too can be done via the app from anywhere.  But there are some extra revenue generators hidden in the system for the City of which many users are not aware.

For starters, there is a 15-cent "convenience fee" on every transaction.  If the City had to approve a "15-cents for the first minute" parking fee, everyone in town would be going nuts.  But because it's hidden in the charge for use of the parking app, nobody is going to say boo about it.  And the system also allows the City to "double charge" for some time.  If you pay for an hour and then leave after 45-minutes, there is no way for you to get your money back for the unused time--even though I'm sure it wouldn't be that hard to include in the "convenient" app.  What's more, if someone pulls into that space right after you leave, they do not get the aforementioned 15-minutes credited to them--because the meter no longer shows you how much time is remaining.  So they use their app to pay for an hour--and the city collects "double time" for the overlapping 15-minutes.  Have that happen a couple dozen times a day every day for a year--and you can see why cities are more than happy to let people "pay by phone".

It may seem like nickels and dimes--but as a wise man once said--if you stack 'em up long enough they equal real money--out of your pocket.

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