Fight the Parking Power:

Several weeks, I got a $350 parking ticket from the UCLA parking people. The offense: Parking partly in a handicapped spot.

Except I wasn't parked partly in a handicapped spot. There were no handicapped spots in the row in which I was parked (a row the number of which was helpfully noted on the ticket).

Naturally, I contested the ticket, by sending a letter pointing out the error. Shortly afterwards, I got the response: They had reviewed the ticket and concluded that I was indeed guilty, but as a courtesy they were lowing the fee to $42.

Well, $42 isn't much to fight about, but I was annoyed; so I contested the ticket further, this time with photographs. (I had assumed none were needed, since I thought they'd have a map of the parking structure, with various kinds of spots marked — or, even if they needed to physically check the spots themselves, they'd prefer to do that instead of trusting any photographs I might send.) Yesterday, I got the response:

Based on the information presented in your appeal, most importantly the photographs you provided of the location where your vehicle was parked and the adjoining parking spaces[,] I am dismissing [the] citation ... and a refund ... will be processed and mailed to the addressed listed....

As a result of your investigation and the evidence you provided for your case, the UCLA Parking Enforcement Officers will be taking photographs for all violations as noted above....

As you might gather, I was delighted; mistakes happen, but it's great to see that some organizations are willing to own up to them. A few thoughts:

1. I do hope UCLA is systematically changing its policies to require that parking enforcers take photos: This should reduce the number of errors they make, and it should be more reliable than counting on the parkers' own photos. My case didn't require reliance on the challenger's candor, since the row number listed on the ticket proved my innocence; but say that there was a handicapped spot in that row, and I was partly parked in it — if I were dishonest, I could have just moved my car and then take a photo showing me firmly in my own spot. Only by taking their own photos can the parking people be fairly confident that the photo represents what was actually going on when the ticket was given.

2. Sometimes, you can fight the parking people and win. Don't just assume that, once an error is made, an organization will refuse to acknowledge it.

3. Some cynics might conclude that an average UCLA student — or a visitor — wouldn't get as good a response as a tenured faculty member would. I expect that, human nature being what it is, there is some such effect in most organizations (especially in cases where, unlike in this case, credibility questions are involved). But I have no reason to think that it's all-or-nothing: I'd think that organizations that are willing to admit error in a professor's case are at least not unlikely to do the same in others' cases. So take the time and effort to defend yourself, even when you're up against the dreaded Parking Establishment.

UPDATE: A reader asks whether I was parked across the line into an ordinary stall, and the parking person's error might have been giving me a ticket for misrecording this as parking partly in a handicapped stall. This might well have been the case; I don't remember for sure now, because that's not what the dispute was about, but it's certainly possible. (I sometimes park a bit across the line, if the cars are parked in a way to make that leave more space all around, but I never park partly or entirely in handicapped spots.)

If the ticket had been just for parking partly across the line, I obviously wouldn't have fought it if it were accurate, and I probably wouldn't have been able to prevail even if it were inaccurate. (If they had told me they were reducing the ticket to $42 because their records reflected that I was parked partly in a nonhandicapped spot, I probably would have taken their word on it; but none of their communications to me made any such claim.) In any case, I didn't discuss this possibility, because it didn't seem relevant to the questions of whether I should have been ticketed for $350 for parking partly in a handicapped spot, and whether it's worth fighting such tickets; but in case you find it relevant to evaluating the story (as the reader seemed to think), I thought I'd note it and apologize for the lack of completeness.