Paying with Pennies – Jerks Every One?


Paying with Pennies – Jerks Every One?

Wow – Lots of emotion out there about folks paying citations with pennies. Here are two comments on my post about the industry’s reaction to difficult customers:

John- You missed the point. Try walking into McDonalds and throw your quarters on the counter and demand your big mac…see how that ends up. Our entire industry is based on how we treat bad behavior. By your logic, returning bad behavior with good, it deems that we must always smile and have good behavior regardless of what the actions are. Your logic would dictate that if I saw a car in violation(bad behavior) that I should find the car(‘s owner) and tell them to please move it, all with a smile(good behavior, with a smile). No citation can be issued because I cannot hold them to any standards, because after all, I am in the service industry and the “customer is ALWAYS right”. It does not work that way on the street. People who pay with pennies have taken the extra step to be overly defiant. It’s a calculated move, and a move that I will not tolerate. You are correct in one way, how I handle the situation AFTER I have deemed a customer’s behavior as inappropriate would be a great topic for discussion at IPI. My “service” is creating a healthy parking environment for my town, not to have “jerks” come in and treat my staff that way. I am curious, short of physical violence, what kind of bad behavior would be severe enough for you to change your behavior back?


I think the problem here is that you can’t ‘fix’ other people’s behavior – it doesn’t matter what you do – accepting the pennies or denying the payment. either way, the customer is determined to be a jerk and is pleased with their own inappropriate behavior. we have accepted penny payments and we make the customer wait while we count it in a coin counter. It’s not a long wait, but when the customer realizes it’s not a pain for us to count the coins and that we aren’t really annoyed, it takes the air out of them. if we didn’t have a coin counter, we would only take rolled coins. it’s really a matter of time and resources. a customer who goes out of their way to be a jerk is not going to be won over by world-class customer service.

I have done a poor job of communicating my position. These two posts and others below go directly to my point. Our industry’s attitude is “My service is creating a healthy parking environment for my town and not to have jerks come in and treat my staff that way.” And “a customer who goes out of their way to be a jerk is not going to be won over by world-class customer service.” Yep, as long as we as an industry believe that, then we have already lost.

I grant that the McDonald’s parallel is a poor one. When someone comes in to McDonalds they do so because they want something (Big Mac). They have no reason to be a “jerk” and if they so act, they are most likely beyond redemption. However most people that we come in contact with in parking enforcement don’t want to be there, feel they have been slighted, and certainly don’t see the situation as a positive one at all.

And there will always be people who are born “jerks” and of course we need to deal with them appropriately. Yes but how does Disney, McDonalds, and Nordstroms deal with “jerks.” They all have them.

The question to me is, how do we change the paradigm? We could say “People are jerks and we have to have rules in place to protect our staff from them.” That does little to solve any problem and simply confirms what they already believe, that we are jerks, and they aren’t.

I think the solution goes far beyond the interaction between the person with the pennies and the clerk at the payment window. It begins when the citation is issued. It begins maybe when the rules are set and the reasons for them. Are they there to provide “a better parking environment” or are they there to increase revenue in the city’s general fund? If I believe that the second is true, then I am going to be combative. If I believe the first is true, then I’m going to be a tad more understanding.

I have been a proponent of giving “courtesy notices” the first time a vehicle is found in violation. The next time give a citation, but maybe a lower amount if paid by a certain date and the third and subsequent times throw the book at them. Of course this would not apply to red zones, fire hydrants, etc. I would also suggest that enforcement officers fail to the parker’s side when there is a judgment call. (one inch over the line, one minute past the time, etc).

It would seem to me that much of the adversarial situation is removed when the person knows they have broken the rules more than once, been given a pass, and then a lower fine.

Where is the PR program that shows folks that the money from the fines goes to parks, clean streets, new parking lighting, and the like? Of course, if it doesn’t go there, then the source of the problem may be out of our control.

I’m certainly not the end all in knowledge about enforcement. But we are talking about parking violations, here – not ax murders. It seems to me that we all need to take a deep breath and remember what we are trying to do. The correspondent above notes that his goal is creating a healthy parking environment in his town. I wonder how the adversarial, line in the sand approach does that? You may have plenty of places for people to park, but you also have a citizenry who is all over you every day.

Is my solution the right one, probably not? Certainly it is simplistic. However these are discussions that need to be had. Talking about how to deal with the “penny jerks” after the fact is one thing, but I believe the goal should be how to defuse the situation before the violation takes place.

A very wise friend of mine told me that when he went in to look at collection issues in a city, he started with the Mayor, City Council, Finance Department, City Administrators, Police, and then with the parking department. He found that the attitudes at these levels reflect the problems and if he could adjust them, it made the parking department’s job much easier. Case in point. When people in Chicago were up in arms about the new parking fees and new meters, the Mayor’s attitude was “this will blow over, just give it time.” When people hear their leaders say things like that, that “jerk” that’s just below the surface in all of us begins to be heard.



John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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