Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Indecency of Pay Parking.

I've decided to start writing here again, with a clean slate. I make no promises as to the efficacy of this endeavour--and, in truth, don't care if I disappoint you with my neglect!--but will write here whenever I think of something interesting. As such, I present you a brief story followed by a letter.

The other day I was up at the Malaspina campus (I suppose I could call myself an alumni at this point, but not without feeling like I've entered some bizarre alternate reality) to attend the launch of the English Department's annual literary magazine. The soirée to launch the mag was organized by my lovely girlfriend, and though that would certainly be enough to ensure my attendance, the specter of a bar and some old friends I hadn't seen since graduating made for what I knew would be a pleasant afternoon and evening. And it was!

With one notable exception: when I arrived at the school--which is renowned for its lack of parking--I managed to grab a spot pretty much as far away from the festivities as humanly possible. No big deal, really. Unfortunately, the parking machine in the lot was out of service. Rather than head off on a one kilometer round-trip walk to purchase a ticket from another lot, I left my car, assuming that some kindness must exist deep underneath the tough exterior of the parking attendants. Apparently, however, all that exists deep in these soulless creatures is a hellish wasteland of charred bone.

In an effort to be nice--and I assure you I was--I contacted Robbins Parking the next day and informed them that I could not have reasonably purchased a ticket, given that the machine was broken. I was directed to their website, on which there is a handy form for filing complaints. I can only assume it's so prominent on their website because this sort of thing happens frequently, and they must respond reasonably. Buoyed by this grotesquely naive notion, I fired off a charitably polite form-email and waited patiently over the weekend. I was, as you may have guessed, sorely disappointed. Below you will find an edited version of the e-mail I received (I removed contact info and the like) and my rather uncharitable response, which you may peruse for your enjoyment.

What they said:
Thank you for your email regarding the violation that you received.

Unfortunately, whenever you park in any private lot you are agreeing to the
terms of that lot that are clearly posted on the sign. This includes going
to another meter to purchase a receipt or calling the number on the sign to
report the problem you are having when you are having it. This serves two
purposes: firstly, it protects you from receiving a violation, and secondly,
it allows us to send maintenance to verify and fix the problem.

Please remit a payment of $15 by April 15th, 2007 to avoid having to pay $30
after this date.

What I said:
Dear Robbins Customer Service Representative,

Thank you for your email regarding the violation that I received.

You make an interesting point vis a vis the assumed agreement of terms in a private parking lot. I must take issue, however, with your suggestion that I would be forced to agree to whatever terms are listed on your sign, however unreasonable. If, for example, Robbins Parking suggested, in clearly posted typeface on their sign, that cars parked without a receipt will be transformed into a dragon by means of magical energies, I would suggest that in addition to being a technical impossibility (to the best knowledge of modern science), this would be an unacceptable arrangement, even if legal precedent may or may not agree. Despite this, I suspect that people may still use your parking lot, but that you may receive a myriad of angry customer-service complaints when you put this clearly posted term into practice (as well as a few bewildered complaints, and several inconsolable ones from the grieving family members of incinerated parking lot goers).

So what we really have here is a question of whether or not your terms are reasonable. We'll set aside, for the briefest of moments, the irrefutable fact that Robbins Parking holds a monopoly on parking space around Malaspina University-College (of which there is precious little), that patrons of the U-C have no alternative choices and would, in point of fact, be forced to accept whatever terms you posted, up to and including the aforementioned act of transmutation. We'll even set aside the fact that since Robbins Parking took over the private parking at Malaspina, parking fines have increased dramatically, free night-time parking hours were eliminated, and jackbooted parking-lot militants prowl the parking lots in multitudes (these last few are, honestly, rather beside the point, but... as they might say in a courtroom, they go to the defendant's character, your Honour).

So, that considerable bit of verbiage aside, we return with great anticipation to the question: is it reasonable? Is it reasonable, given the time constraints on most people when they're on campus, to expect your patrons to set off on a one-kilometer round trip because your parking machine is out of order (again, as it has been probably 20% of the times I've been on campus)? Perhaps you think it is reasonable to inconvenience people to such a degree. Let's assume for a moment that this ghastly suggestion is as real as the nose on my stern face. Is it more reasonable to expect, say, a dozen parking-lot patrons to walk a kilometer to pay you a measly $2, or is it more reasonable to expect your jackbooted parking-lot attendant to spend fifteen seconds ascertaining whether the payment machine is in order and not throwing around parking tickets like confetti? Of course, I realize this is a cut-throat world and, by definition, a few throats are going to be cut. Of course, I realize that in the rush to sate our insatiable desire for capital, a few hearts will be broken. Of course, I realize all of these trappings of Mercantile Ethics 101, but I don't afford them the label "reasonable", and reject them as a matter of principle.

What remains, then, is a matter of principle. The meager $2 I was willing to exchange for parking at the University-College is of no consequence. And, truthfully, the $15 or the $30 (after three business days--one idly wonders if this increased payment after a few days is offered simply as a nicety or as a means of ensuring payment and not dissenting e-mails) means as little. But, out of principle alone, I'm afraid I can't consent to relinquishing these funds. I'm sure you understand, it being a cut-throat world and all. I can promise you, however, that the next time I am at Malaspina University-College and find myself in need of parking, I will purchase not one, but two tickets for my car, in order to pay my karmic debt to you. I can offer you no proof to this end, unfortunately, except my word as a gentleman. I offer only one caveat: if by some miracle of modern science or magic realism your company does acquire the means to transmute automobiles into other lifeforms, I humbly request that you ignore my two parking tickets (perhaps they cancel each other out?) and leave an awe-inspiring pink dragon in my car's stead. I'll even pay the $30 if you leave a Dragon Saddle™ for me to use, as I'm not very skilled when it comes to riding mythical beasts at this point and would like to ensure that I get home safely.

Thank you for your time.

I'll let you all in on the response, should there be any.


Blogger Megan said...

hahahahaha! in my weakened, cold-recovering state, you have me laughing and LOUDLY coughing before 8 in the morning.

5:06 AM  
Blogger H said...

You truly are a wordsmith, Mr. Grant.
Your faithful servant,

9:54 AM  
Anonymous David said...

This was quite interesting, and while I understand your argument, I'm not sure I agree with it.

Taken individually, in your specific case, I agree they should waive the fine. It's their fault the machine was broken, and it is unreasonable to expect people to wander around looking for a working machine. However, if I were this parking company, I'd be loathe to make any exceptions considering the thrifty yet communicative nature of students. Once you start doing it, anything can be argued and precedent can be used.

As well, your other point is regarding unreasonable terms. I agree with the company here too. If they're posting terms, it doesn't matter what they are, you accept them if you park there. It's a private parking lot and you're under no obligation to park there. While I, like you, find their effective monopoly on parking in the area unfortunate, that is the state of affairs. As unpleasant as they are, there are other options for transportation.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Legally, you're undoubtedly correct, as I pointed out in my letter. Legalities, however, are the whims of courts and have, throughout modern history, been overturned countless times. That is to say that unlike, say, a moral philosophy that has stood the test of time, matters of law are always up for questioning and subsequent revision. So rather than make my appeal on legal grounds, I made it on ethical grounds--and I maintain expecting a reasonable agreement is a far more defensible position than expecting any and all terms provided by said company to be agreed to.

Now, all that said (and as I pointed out in my follow-up e-mail) I fully expected them to deny my claim. I'm sure this is their procedure at least 99% of the time they receive such a complaint. They are, after all, a business, and businesses that can expect your economic loyalty owing to monopoly rather than service are by far the worst offenders when it comes to behaving reasonably.

Unfortunately for them, I'm a stubborn prick who likes to take the piss out of people. I had my fun. It was a good lark. And now they can expend energy trying to get $30 from me that they'll never see (a sum that is likely far too small to warrant being sent to a collection agency). I considered paying them in unrolled pennies, but discovered that no company or person in Canada can be expected (by law!) to accept more than a twenty-five cent payment in pennies. Too bad!

2:15 AM  

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