Pay It Forward by Brett Wood, CAPP, PE

I’m not sure how many of you use Flipboard on your tablet or smartphone, but it’s an amazing source of all kinds of news for any subject you are interested in. For me, it’s all about college football, urban planning, travel, and, of course, parking. The parking news page is everything you could hope for, including industry news, information about municipal/university parking challenges, innovations in parking, etc. Of course, there are always articles and slideshows about how badly people park. That’s my secret obsession—seeing how badly people behave in parking lots and the awesome reactions of their colleagues and neighbors. Seriously, Google “bad parking.” It might not get any better than that.

But the other day, I ran across a great story about humanity in the form of parking tickets. Recently in Australia, a new mother spent several days in the hospital with her sick 9-month old baby. When the child was released, the mother returned to her car to find a parking ticket on her car. But instead of the normal information, she found a note that read:

Hi there, I saw your car had a parking ticket on it. Im sure whatever you are going
through at the hospital is tough enough, so Ive paid it for you. Hope things get better!

You often hear of this concept in other forms: parking meter angels feeding coins into a meter to pay for an expiring transaction; someone buying the food or coffee of the person behind them in a drive-thru line. But this was one of the first times I had heard of someone taking care of a ticket while it still sat on the car. The concept seemed extremely generous and really served to make the new mother’s day a little brighter.

It also got me thinking about the policies and practices of our parking enforcement staffs and decision makers. Why should the new mother have received the ticket in the first place? Well, I’m sure the enforcement program at the hospital was put in place to manage demand and ensure a seamless customer experience. But was there appropriate signage or navigation to show the new mother where to park or how to pay? When the system was designed, did the decision-makers think about how distraught a patient might be upon arrival or that parking might be a very distant afterthought? Were hospital employees instructed to inform the patient about parking policy when they arrived?

Many of these customer service amenities might help to make the parking experience better and alleviate the need to write the ticket in the first place. While the mystery patron was very noble in their payment of the citation, the hospital could also pay it forward by making the parking experience a little easier.