I had a few minutes to spare recently when running an errand, so I decided to listen to the “You can pay for parking with your phone!” ads and stickers plastered all over the parking lot and give the “Passport Parking” app a try. Oy, what a mistake.
The process of installing the app, signing up for an account, and funding a “parking wallet” with a $10 charge to my credit card was easy and straightforward. That makes perfect sense, since I’m sure the people at Passport Parking have put every effort into removing as much friction as possible from the process of separating users from their money.
It was only after they’d taken my money that things started going downhill.
The app informed me that the parking fee for the 51 minutes left in the day before the meters went off duty was 63 cents. However, the app also informed me that a 15-cent “convenience fee” would be added for the privilege of paying through the app. Yes, that’s right, they wanted me to pay a 24% “convenience fee.”
If I had opted to charge just this one parking fee to my credit card, rather than giving Passport Parking $10 of my money to pay this and future fees from, a fee that high would not have been unreasonable, since the credit-card processing charge is a good percentage of a micro-charge like 63 cents. But it’s highly unlikely they paid a processing fee of much more than 50 cents on my $10 charge, i.e., 5%, so charging me a 24% fee is highway robbery.
Let me emphasize that I was not told there are fees for using this service until after I gave them my money. It was not mentioned on any of the signs or stickers in the lot, and the app didn’t mention it. Although the app did require me to agree to its terms and conditions, there was no obvious link to click on to read them, so apparently I was supposed to agree to them without actually reading them, and furthermore, the terms and conditions don’t even explicitly say that there’s a fee, let alone how much it is.
Keep in mind that when people pre-fund a “wallet,” in the app, not only does Passport Parking make money off of the exorbitant convenience fees, they also make interest on the money you’ve paid them until you actually use it for parking.
After being informed about the convenience fee, I immediately decided, “Nope, no way, this is not OK, and I am not going to give this business any of my money.” So I used quarters to feed the meter instead.
Then I searched in the app and its help documentation for a way to get a refund. There was nothing.
I emailed their support department, informed them that I wanted to cancel my account and get a refund because of their exorbitant fees, and asked how to do that. To their credit, they responded quickly, giving me instructions for deactivating my account by logging into their mobile web app at m.ppprk.com. How odd that this functionality is available in their mobile web app but not their native Android app, i.e., they’ve made it hard to find.
I tried using m.ppprk.com from my phone, and I was unable to log into the app using my email address; I had to log into the app from my laptop instead. Yes, that’s right, their mobile web app doesn’t work from a mobile phone.
When I had signed up for my account through the Android app, they emailed me a “verification code” to confirm that I was the owner of my email address. Twenty minutes later, when I logged into their web app to deactivate my account, they once again emailed me a verification code, and the code was the same. This does not inspire confidence in their security.
When I went through the account deactivation process, I was asked for my mailing address so they could mail me a refund check. Even though they have customer credit-card numbers on file, they are apparently unable to post refunds to the same cards that they’ve previously charged. Perhaps that isn’t a big deal for credit cards, since (one would hope!) the refund check arrives before the customer’s next credit-card bill is due, but for a debit card, this means while they’ve taken the customer’s money out of their checking account immediately, they have to wait significantly longer than that for a refund.
Let me offer some advice to the cities and towns that are offering electronic parking payment:
- Electronic parking payments save you money, so if you want people to use it, then don’t charge them more for it. It reduces how often meters have to be emptied and the volume of coins you have to count, roll, and deposit, and therefore you will pay for less wear-and-tear on your meters and equipment and need fewer employees. It also reduces the amount of employee theft. If you can’t figure out how to offer electronic payment without making it cost the customer more than cash payment, you’re doing something wrong.
- If you must charge a fee, then make sure it it’s a reasonable fee (24% is not reasonable!) and be up-front and honest about it so that customers can make an informed decision.
- Pick a better vendor than Passport Parking.
Johnathan, I’ll certainly take this feedback to our team. There are many different factors involved with some of the items you mentioned but you make valid points; especially around how we can improve communication in regard to user experience, costs, etc.. It sounds like a frustrating situation and for that I apologize. If you have any additional insight, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
The Passport Parking web page published by the city of Newton, Massachusetts conspicuously fails to mention anything about the service charging a fee. It strains credulity to believe that this omission is unintentional; rather, it seems clear that, like the Passport Parking app itself, Newton is intentionally failing to disclose upfront that there is a fee for using the service, to spur adoption by making people invest time and effort into signing up before the fees are sprung on them. This is entirely unacceptable.
I have complained to Newton about this. They could prove me wrong by updating their page to document the fees clearly and explicitly. I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.
Ditto for the Boston, Massachusetts web page.