When Government Stifles Technology Out of Fear

I wrote about this app in our blog months ago as I thought it was genius and would help many.  As of now Fixed, a mobile app that fights parking tickets and other traffic citations on users’ behalf, has had its parking ticket operations blocked in three of its top cities, San Francisco, Oakland and L.A. after the cities increased the measures they were taking to block Fixed from accessing their parking ticket websites.  So if the tickets are valid why would they block Fixed from doing justice?  This is just another way big government get away with bullying the little guy.  I mean really if the ticket is not a good ticket, and Fixed can help someone then why should the city's block this.  What are they afraid of?

Fixed customers could snap a photo of their parking ticket using their phone’s camera, and then Fixed would check against a variety of common errors before writing a customized letter to the city on the user’s behalf. The app also cleverly tapped into Google Street View to check to see if the city had the proper signage in place in the area a ticket was received.  So the city has incorrectly given a ticket but it does not want to play by their own rules.  Founder David Hegarty once noted that over half of tickets have an issue that would make them invalid, but the city didn’t tend to play by its own rules when arbitrating disputes. That made Fixed’s “win” rate only 20%-30% on tickets, as of earlier this year. (When the company won, it charged a success fee of 25% of the original fine – a reduction in what a customer would have otherwise paid.)

When Fixed began faxing its submissions to SFMTA last year, the agency emailed the startup to stop using their fax machine. When Fixed pointed out that it was legal to do so, the agency simply shut off their fax.  This is the way a fine upstanding city that allows all kinds of shenanigans to begin with does business.

It gets much more sinister.  Now it appears the city has taken more action to get others to block them out.  According to Hegarty, the three cities in question currently outsource the backend of their Ticketing Operations to Xerox, who started trying to block Fixed from their ticket websites around February or March of this year. Reportedly, the blocking was an explicit instruction from the SFMTA. Initially, the blocking was trivial; Hegarty says – just CAPTCHA plus IP blocking. It was easy enough to work around.

But in August, Xerox began using a third-party organization to block Fixed from accessing the parking ticket site. While Fixed engineers could still work around the block, it now required an increased amount of engineering time and resources, and this also impacted Fixed’s customer service operations.  For that reason, Fixed decided to end support for parking ticket assistance in these locations.

This to me is a shame, and I am saddened that the company could not continue to fight on.  They have a great service and cities should have to play by the rules.  This is a travesty to say the least.

What is Fixed saying:

“In September, we decided to pause our Parking Ticket service. All existing tickets in the system will continue to be processed, but we are not accepting new ones until we resolve this issue,” says Hegarty.

“It’s unfortunate that the SFMTA decided to block our service. Over 60,000 parking tickets had been submitted to Fixed. Not only were we helping people beat their unfair parking tickets, but the alerts on our app were helping people pay their parking fines on time and avoid late fees,” he continues.

“Parking Ticket Fines account for 15% of the SFMTA operating budget, and it looks like they objected to us providing some accountability to their process,” Hegarty adds.

This is truly a pathetic story that we should do something about.  If we are continuing to be bullied by these organizations how can we ever get ahead.  Look in the end if the ticket is valid it gets paid but if it is not, and a service can prove that then so be it.  The city of San Francisco should be ashamed.

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