I normally don't drive to work. Walking or taking the subway is far easier and cheaper. Thursday, though, I had reason to drive. I parked at the corner of 8th and Arch streets and walked to the kiosk.
I was flush with quarters and cash, so I pumped four quarters into the kiosk, no problem. Then I tried to feed it a dollar bill. Little gears inside the kiosk sputtered and consumed my bill with the enthusiasm of a 2-year-old being offered a serving of kale. In further imitation of a finicky toddler, the kiosk spit my bill back out.
I put the money back in the slot. The wheels didn't turn this time. I tried again. The wheels wheezed to life, took in the bill and shot it back out again, at which point it fluttered into the street.
Just to be clear, this dollar wasn't a crumpled mess. It was crisp, uncreased and clean, everything a machine could ask of paper currency.
I repeated this futility a few more times. Finally, the kiosk lost patience with me.
Unprompted, it printed out a receipt for the $1 of parking I had paid for at that point. Not helpful. I needed to be at work for several hours and was not at all psyched to leave my office and engage in this lab-rat exercise again.
Disgusted, I walked away from the machine. Amazingly, when I came back three hours later there was no parking ticket. Whoever was checking parked cars that day, thank you.
I'd be interested to know other people's experiences, but for me this was not the first time I've used a kiosk that either wouldn't accept a bill, wouldn't read a credit card, wouldn't let me put in exactly the amount of time I wanted, and so on. I assume I'm not the only one.
Personal experience is a poor substitute for data, though, so I asked the Philadelphia Parking Authority for information about the number of complaints received in the past month about parking kiosks in the city. I was told it would be easier to obtain the information if I filed a Right to Know request, which they should respond to in less than five days.
Should all go well, next week I'll have a lot of information about how many, or how few, complaints the parking authority receives about parking in the city, and what they have to say in return. I'll also try to get some information on the repair schedules for these machines, which are six years old, max.
Really good complaints I'll post on this blog. If any of you want to share experiences as infuriating as mine, or worse, feel free to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can commiserate.