Parking in Fairfield County: 'No Grace'

Even if you're only 8 minutes over your meter, you'll get a ticket -- Cathryn Prince found out the hard way.

Last week I took a drive to . I couldn’t find any free two-hour spots along Elm Street, or on Main Street near the . So rather than keep trolling for a spot, I decided to park in the municipal lot behind .

I grabbed a handful of quarters from my stash and went to pre-pay at the automatic parking kiosk. I dutifully entered my parking space number, inserted quarters and out popped my receipt. I paid for slightly less than two hours.

After spending time leisurely browsing at the , and splurging on Nathaniel Philbrick’s ‘Why Read Moby Dick’ (lately I have shipwrecks on my mind, but that’s another story) I popped into and grabbed a cup coffee to go. Then I walked around, took a look at .

Finally, it was time to return to my car and head home. My break had lasted long enough. I got to the lot and stopped. There was the man in uniform no one wants to see -- the parking enforcer. I saw the telltale ticket fluttering against my windshield. For a minute I thought maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe I was supposed to have put my receipt under the windshield wiper (it’s been a while since I’ve parked in that lot). I approached the officer.

“Did I get a ticket? I paid for a spot -- was I supposed to leave it on the window?” I asked.

“Oh, no. Let me see. Please don’t make me feel bad, tomorrow is my birthday,” the officer answered.

He studied my ticket.

“You were eight minutes over,” he said.

What? Make him feel bad for giving me a ticket? Shouldn’t I be the one feeling bad? It cost me $15 for those 8 minutes -- or $1.875 an minute to be exact. (I know, I used my calculator.)

I know the officer was simply doing his job. In fact, he was so polite and nice about everything that I found myself feeling sorry for him, and actually thanked him as he handed me my ticket.

When I got home I looked at the ticket and saw that you can supposedly pay online. That’s cool, paperless. So I logged on to the town's website, entered my ticket number and license plate number. Nothing.

Hmmmm. Okay, maybe it was too soon. I few hours later I tried again. Supposedly persistence pays off, but after getting an error message for what seemed like the zillionth time (but was really only the thirtieth time) I decided to go the old fashioned route. I took out my checkbook, and stuffed that and the ticket in the mail.

I know that at the train station if you park 5 minutes before 9 a.m. at the $4 spots you get ticketed $50.

In Fairfield, parking tickets range between $25.00 to $85.00. The recently updated its website to include online ticket payment. Tickets must be paid within ten days of the date issued or additional penalties can result.

The town of offers a detailed explanation about parking permits and payment, but nowhere does it mention a grace period. The same goes for Darien.

I understand the need to enforce parking. I understand the concept of pay for space. But 8 minutes? Isn’t there something called a grace period? Would 10 – 15 minutes be too much? Do any towns in Fairfield County give a grace period? No. No grace.

Pi February 13, 2012 at 01:20 PM
BRB, Do you want to know why they make so much money? It's because of people like (but mostly worse) than Ms. Prince. Dealing with the public as an agent of the government (even on this level) can be unbearable. When you are in a retail setting, it's quite easy. The product has a price. The customer pays that price. The customer gets that product. Simple. So simple teenagers can handle it. When you work as an agent of the government, they aren't getting a product and you are just being mean. People always expect more and more. Ms. Prince wants an 8 minute grace period. The next person wants a 10 minute grace period. Just because there isn't a physical product doesn't mean I can look the other way. There are obligations I must uphold not only to do the job I was hired to do but to do the job fairly. Everyone follows the same rules or you might as well not have rules. People don't understand that so they get angry. I have done this type of work. I have been physically threatened. I have had my job threatened. I have been yelled at, spit at, and shoved. There have been attempts at what I can only assume was bribery. I have been told "I pay your salary!" and "I am very good friends with *insert high ranking official* and we'll see what he has to say about this."
Pi February 13, 2012 at 01:21 PM
It is all very frustrating. I never got any joy out of making someone pay a ticket. These are my fellow citizens! But I wasn't the one who made them screw up. That's why they get paid well. Sorry about two posts but I got the "Easy there, Tolstoy. Your comment cannot exceed 1500 characters." error which made me LOL.
Cathryn J. Prince February 13, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Hello there Pi. I don't usually comment on my own pieces, but now I see that you and the other readers clearly missed the point of my op-ed. I asked if it would be possible for a grace period, that's about it. No where do I say I won't pay my ticket or fail to take responsibility for my lateness. In fact, if you read the piece you, and the other readers, will note that I thanked the officer and was 100 percent respectful of him and his job. Moreover, as soon as I got home tried to pay on line. When that didn't work I mailed my payment in.
Pi February 13, 2012 at 02:32 PM
I read your article and I did understand what you were saying. If you believe I accused you of not paying your ticket, I apologize. That was not my intent. I was merely giving examples of encounters I have had. As far as I know, we have never met in any situation. My question to you is why should you get a grace period? I am not familiar with the meters in New Canaan but they do tell you how much time you have left, correct? You left to go shopping knowing you had a little under two hours. It isn't like you were blindsided. The problem with grace periods is that they can be abused. You needed eight extra minutes to get back to your car. What happens when someone needs 15 extra minutes? Or half an hour? Should they also get a grace period? If everyone gets a grace period then what's the point of parking enforcement? The reason the rules are set up this way is it removes the threat of favoritism. I have fallen into this trap before. Someone gives a sob story (not saying you did this) about why they broke the rules and being and empathetic fellow, I cut them a break. The next person I run into who violated the rules also has a sob story. My job is no longer about enforcing the rules but determining which excuse is worthy of leniency. That's why it's best to simply stick to the rules. You get the amount of time you pay for. There are some cases where logic and reasoning should be used, but sticking to the rules is usually the best idea.
Caitlin Mazzola February 16, 2012 at 05:44 PM
A comment has been deleted because it violated Patch terms of use: http://fairfield.patch.com/terms


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