Dear Mr. Kleckner [Melvin Kleckner, Brookline MA Town Administrator],
I was so happy to see that the Town of Brookline is continuing its ongoing efforts to make parking in Brookline as unpleasant as possible by recently adding a 30-cent fee for all credit-card transactions in parking meters. I’m sure the owners of small businesses in Brookline appreciate how much effort the town puts into discouraging people from patronizing them.
But seriously, although I mean every word of the snark in the previous paragraph, that’s not actually the main reason I’m emailing you today.
I’m emailing you because the way Brookline added the 30-cent fee to your parking meters is a violation of M.G.L. Chapter 93a and probably also a violation of your merchant agreements with the credit cards you accept in your meters.
Yes, your meters display a message notifying users about the 30-cent fee. And yes, the receipts printed by your meters also display a message about the 30-cent fee. However, the message on the screen notifying the user of the amount that’s about to be charged to their card does not include the 30-cent fee, and similarly, the amount on the “Paid:” line on the receipt doesn’t include it either.
It is unfair and deceptive (and thus a Chapter 93a violation) to display a message telling the user the total amount you’re about to charge to their credit card, when the amount displayed is not, in fact, the total amount that gets charged. Furthermore, credit card issuers typically require merchants to notify the user what the total charge will be, and to include the total charge on the printed receipt.
A message notifying the user about the 30-cent fee is not adequate, because it leaves ambiguous the question of whether that fee is included in the total charge (which it is not).
This is not OK, and the town needs to fix it.
As you may or may not be aware, Chapter 93a allows for an individual cause of action, for class actions, for awarding of legal fees, and for double and even triple damages depending on the severity of the unfair and deceptive practices. In other words, by failing to unambiguously inform the users of your parking meters what you are charging them, you are leaving the town open to lawsuits which could result in your being required to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees and double or even triple that 30-cent fee to every single person who has paid for parking with a credit card since you added the 30-cent fee.