Help Desk: The case of the phantom parking tickets

THE PROBLEM: Randy Wagner has three parking tickets she doesn't deserve.

Wagner, who lives in Fairmount, is a PhillyCarShare member. On July 25, she got a notice from the city saying she had a hearing scheduled for three tickets totaling almost $275.

The thing is, Wagner didn't have a PhillyCarShare reservation for any of the days the tickets were written, so the tickets couldn't have been hers.

Wagner called the Philadelphia Parking Authority three times to ask them to remove the tickets from her name. It took two calls to even find out what time and where the supposed violations occurred, and she was given several different answers from different representatives, she said.

Though one PPA representative told Wagner she could mail in documentation from PhillyCarShare proving she didn't have a reservation at those times, by that point she wasn't confident that the Parking Authority would listen.

It looked like she was going to have to take off work and attend an administrative hearing to sort everything out.

"It just takes an act of Congress to get something done," she said, adding that she didn't think it fair that she had to take a vacation day to fix someone else's mess.

PHANTOM TICKETS. Help Desk spoke first with Michael Mc-Guire, director of fleet and financial operations at PhillyCarShare.

He agreed that the tickets weren't Wagner's responsibility, and attributed the problem to a computer glitch over at the Parking Authority.

When a PhillyCarShare car gets a ticket, the company provides the PPA with the name of the person who had the car at the time of the violation, McGuire said. But sometimes, the Parking Authority attaches all of the outstanding tickets on a vehicle to the last member who received a ticket while using that car. (Wagner got a red-light ticket while driving the vehicle in question earlier this year, but paid the fine.)

Next, we spoke with Richard Dickson, senior director of strategic planning and administration at the Parking Authority.

After checking the authority's records, he agreed that the hearing notice shouldn't have been sent to Wagner because her name isn't on the tickets.

In fact, the tickets in question were issued to other PhillyCarShare members. As for Wagner, he said, "there are currently no tickets in her name." She could ignore the hearing notice, and he said he would mail her a letter to that effect.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Dickson chalked up the issue to human error.

The problem started, he said, when Wagner called to request an administrative hearing for her red-light ticket. At that point, a Parking Authority employee entered a hearing request into the authority's computer system for all the tickets attached to the vehicle. This is standard practice for tickets assigned to personal cars, but it causes problems for drivers of cars owned by rental companies because other people could have gotten the other tickets.

Wagner eventually paid her red-light fine. But the three other tickets were still attached to the hearing she had scheduled. So when she received a reminder about the hearing, they appeared on the letter.

The question remains why Wagner couldn't deal with all of this over the phone. After all, it didn't take Dickson long to figure out that the three tickets weren't Wagner's responsibility.

Dickson reviewed recordings of the calls Wagner made to the Parking Authority, and said that the employees she spoke with looked only at the information for the first ticket assigned to the car - the red-light violation that really was Wagner's. They never realized the three other tickets weren't hers.

"They should've gone back and looked at the other tickets," he said, attributing the problem to confusion over the appeal of the red-light ticket.

For her part, Wagner's happy the issue's been resolved, but not especially happy about the experience.

"I just feel like it's a bureaucratic mess," she said of the Parking Authority.

Are you being haunted by a phantom ticket of some kind? Or perhaps you've had a good experience with city services. Either way, let us know about it at, or call 215-854-5855.