PORTLAND, Ore.— Sarah Claiborne couldn’t find parking in Northwest Portland. No surprise -- it’s always tough to find a spot. So she pulled into a private parking lot at Northwest 23rd Avenue and Irving Street.
Clairborne put $6 cash into the automated payment machine but it didn’t print out a ticket. It appeared the machine malfunctioned.
“I wrote out a note. I left a note on my windshield saying that I paid my $6 but nothing dropped. Please honor my note,” explained Claiborne, who lives in Lake Oswego. “But, when I came back to my car there was a citation.”
The parking ticket from Pacific Audit Solutions said Claiborne owed $44 for “Failure to Display Valid Receipt.”
Unlike official parking citations that go through the court system, private lots issue their own tickets. They decide if a citation should be dismissed. If you don’t agree, you can appeal to the city of Portland.
That happens a lot.
Through a public records request, KGW news found 726 people have complained to the city over the past year about getting a parking ticket they feel they didn’t deserve in self-park lots. Of those complaints, 62 customers felt cheated by a machine malfunction.
“There has to be a better way,” said Roger Olson of Portland. “Somehow there needs to be better maintenance of the machines and if they have an attendant there, the attendant should know what is going on.”
Olson received a $44 ticket after parking in a private lot near Southwest 10th and Main Street in downtown Portland. He said the payment machine malfunctioned and the attendant reassured him it would be okay.
“We felt pretty angry about this because we had made every effort,” explained Olson. He called Pacific Audit Solutions to question the ticket, but the company declined to reconsider.
“The company said, ‘Well, you didn’t pay,” said Olson, who eventually surrendered and paid the $44 ticket.
City records showed there were 538 disputed complaints against Pacific Audit Solutions between Nov. 1, 2015 – Nov. 1, 2016. That’s far more than the other five companies authorized to issue parking violations in Pay and Park lots.
Pacific Audit Solutions also manages far more lots than other companies. It’s owned by City Center Parking, which dominates Portland’s parking industry. Pacific Audit Solutions monitors their 146 lots and gives tickets for any violations.
A spokesperson for Pacific Audit Solutions and City Center Parking said the company forgives roughly 20 percent of all contested tickets, but typically not those involving machine malfunctions.
“We explicitly say if the machine does not dispense a ticket, then don’t park in the parking facility. Move to an alternate site. It is clearly posted at each location,” explained Julian Jones, a senior vice president at ImPark.
Jones also said after KGW's request for more information about ticketing practices, ImPark decided to re-examine its policies.
"We are in the process of reviewing the practice around issuing parking violation notices in Portland in the case of machine malfunction, and anticipate the policies will change in due course," Jones said. "Thanks for bringing the issue to our attention."
Signs at City Center lots do clearly include a warning, “If Meter Does Not Dispense Ticket, DO NOT PARK IN THE FACILITY.”
The company said reports of machine malfunctions at its Portland parking lots are rare.
“Just about all of those machines were replaced just a few years ago,” said Jones.
Records show 55 City Center Parking customers complained about tickets involving machine malfunctions last year, about 10 percent of all City Center complaints.
The company explained customers have 30 days to dispute a ticket. Agents consider photos of the parking lot, signage and whether the customer had previous violations before deciding if an appeal should be granted or denied.
“The lady I talked to [at Pacific Audit Solutions] was really insulting,” said Claiborne. “It was like, ‘Anybody can say they paid.’”
Pacific Audit Solutions denied Claiborne’s appeal. The company followed up with a “Penalty Payment Letter” increasing her ticket to $83 because she hadn’t paid within 48 days. The letter warned that if the amount remained unpaid for more than 30 days it would be sent to collections.
“My concern is nobody talks to you. You get these notices and you get telephone numbers but nobody really talks to you,” explained Claiborne.
Claiborne took the next step, appealing to the city of Portland. The city’s Revenue Bureau examined the case. It asked Pacific Audit Solutions to dismiss the ticket.
“I asked the accounting department at City Center Parking to take a look at the data from the machine in lot 289 that day, and they did find a canceled $6 transaction made at 11:40 that looked like it might have been yours,” wrote Anne Holm, Regulatory Program Manager, in a letter to Claiborne. “The machine appeared to be working.”
The city’s Revenue Bureau said it overturns roughly 60 percent of the complaints it receives about parking tickets in private lots.
“The concern I have is the amount of time it has taken to try and resolve the issue,” said Claiborne, who feels it is unfair that customers have to prove their innocence through a series of appeals.
She believes customers should be trusted and treated with respect.
“I will find another place to park,” she said.
Published Feb. 3, 2017