Fighting the Parking Fairies
It’s the month of Valentine’s – or as my daughter used to call it “The Loving Day.” The holidays are in our rearview mirror. Our New Year’s resolutions are a happy afterthought. And now we get to celebrate football and romance. Next month, it’s leprechauns and four-leaf clovers. There’s always a reason to party.
I’m not a big partier. My 40s have brought me a new realization that I am not the extrovert I thought I was. Now I can stay home and relax without thinking I’m not fulfilling my potential. But I totally support the big personalities out there who make life so colorful. It takes all kinds.
I recently read an article about a wild and crazy woman in Alaska who got a $75 parking ticket and turned it into a 25-year vendetta against her city’s parking authority.
She said the ticket was issued mistakenly – she had a parking permit, but it was incorrectly placed. She appealed the ticket and got it reduced, but only a little. That made her mad. So, she and her sister started collecting money and distributing it throughout town, quarter by quarter, in expired parking meters. The city reportedly suffered huge losses in ticket revenues.
In due time, the sisters felt inspired to buy an old meter maid patrol vehicle. They got a lot of national press exposure and more donations poured in. They gave a large amount of it to organizations that feed hungry children. They continued collecting money and feeding parking meters.
Pretty soon, people started calling them the parking fairies. There were sequins and tutus and feathered wings. Next, the parking authority president resigned. After that, the parking authority itself was disbanded and parking enforcement turned over to the police.
I know this isn’t a happy story for the parking authority, the municipality or the meter manufacturer involved. It’s probably a horror story to anybody within the parking industry. I can see how disruptive, antagonistic and damaging this kind of behavior would be to an organization that is doing difficult and necessary work. So, I’m not condoning it, even though I find the story entertaining. I especially like the part where they dressed up like fairies. I appreciate people with that kind of self-confidence.
These women practically made it their life’s work to thwart their local parking enforcement agency. They easily inspired the support of their community and ended up perceived as heroes.
Besides the image of a pink meter maid patrol car driving around town saving people from getting tickets, this story was interesting to me because it goes to show what people will do when they take parking enforcement personally.
And I think that’s the disconnect. For parking enforcement entities and officers, and parking payment equipment providers, the task of organizing parking and payment for parking is a profession. For people in cars and on streets, parking is personal.
We don’t all have the inclination or determination required to run a parking authority out of town. The parking fairies of Anchorage are an extreme example of a bad reaction to a parking ticket – maybe the most extreme I’ve heard. I’m told people who live in Alaska are a peculiar bunch, so maybe that explains it.
I don’t expect to see crusades like this becoming the norm, but our country’s culture is shifting dramatically. I can easily imagine Boomers and Millennials alike deciding that widespread resistance to government control is needed. Parking would be an easy place to start.
The Boomers will write letters and organize marches; the Millennials will get on their phones and do whatever it is they do, and somehow it will manifest as an effective, if not passive, opposition to being ticketed. So how does a city enforce parking in a way that’s more personal, without expending unnecessary effort or wasting limited resources?
I suggest, start by putting an emoji on the ticket - one that conveys a message like: “You’re awesome, and I’m sorry for this, but I have to give you a ticket. Let’s talk soon.” If an emoji seems too unprofessional, then print “We’re your city and we care. Call us at 1-800-TICKETS-ARE-HARD-FOR-US-TOO.”
This will make the Boomers and the Millennials feel special. The Boomers will feel special because it’s a generic, yet individual message; and the Millennials will be happy because they can share a picture of the cute ticket with their friends on whatever social media platform to which they’re currently devoted. No need to worry much about the Gen X crowd – we’re just going to pay the ticket and move on with our lives.
I wouldn’t wish the parking fairies on any city. I am trying to imagine at what point in the story the Anchorage parking authority could have placated these angry imps. I think it’s safe to say, a friendly gesture made pretty early on in the scenario could have changed everything.