Friday, August 29, 2008

Cape May Parking: Designed to Scam

Some designs in life are ubiquitous; you don't need to dissect them. You just know what they are and what they are supposed to do. Parking meters were one of those things to me. You pulled into a parking spot, saw the familiar "head" of the meter that displayed how much time was left and you fed it coins. That is how it is supposed to work. That is, unless you want to increase the number of people that you give tickets to.

Last week I was in Cape May on vacation, and was the victim of a new design for parking meters. I drove into the main section of town and pulled into an empty parking spot. As I pulled in, there were no visual cues anywhere that I had to pay for parking. That is, there wasn't until I got back to my car and found the ticket on the windshield. That was my first clue that I was in a parking space that had to be paid for. That was my education by the town of Cape May that they want you to pay for parking. So instead of fifty cents going into their budget, they got $32 out of me.

How did this happen? You pull into a spot that has no number in white text on the black pavement. There isn't a familiar parking meter with a blinking red "expired" display on it. There isn't a sign nearby saying you have to pay for parking. There are zero visual cues to let you know that you are about to break the law.

Here is the despicable design of their parking system that I learned about AFTER getting ticketed. In the section I parked, there are 19 parking spaces. To let drivers know they have to pay for parking in these spaces they provide 2 signs for all 19 spaces, along with 2 computerized machines that accepts your money. If you don't happen to park near them, like I didn't, you are screwed. It turns out that there are numbers on the spaces, but not in the familiar place before you enter the spot. They place it in small letters on the gray curb, where you can't see it from your car. This turned out to be a real life I SPY game, and I lost.

It turns out that the design is so bad, the local newspaper, EXIT ZERO, has a centerfold story on it. The title of the story is, "An Encyclopedic Explanation on How to Handle Those Pesky New Parking Meters...Please Read!" The need for an article explaining how to use parking meters speaks volumes. Take a look at the article:

InteractionDesignBlog.com has a few articles on the design and usability of parking meters, but they assume that the person knows that the meter exists. I hope that they add this to their design recommendations for better parking meters. Here is the same image as above, but with the familiar visual cues we'd expect present to notify us to pay for the parking spot:


If someone came to me and said, "Please design me a parking meter system that will not be intuitive and drive up ticket revenues" I would have designed this exact system. If they wanted a system that was fair to vacationers visiting their town, you would have designed something familiar. According to the Cape May County Herald, the design-to-scam is working flawlessly with parking meter revenue up this year already by $26,365 to last year at this time. A number on the ground painted in yellow and green parking meters at each spot with a P on them would probably have impact on this number.

Other than the parking meter scam, Cape May is a wonderful place to vacation. A highlight was eating at 410 Bank Street, which had parking right next to it, with good old parking meters installed.

UPDATE: This article was published in the latest issue of Exit Zero magazine (Volume 6, #30, page 43). Here is the article in PDF format (2.78MB).

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Last year Cape May got me like this so over the 4th of July weekend I knew there was one parking meter per side. However after swiping my credit card I had no way of knowing if my card was accepted or not because receipts aren't issued from these meters. Of course I got back to my car and there was a ticket on it. Easiest way to solve the parking problem in Cape May.......DON'T VISIT CAPE MAY.

Jeanine said...

We received a $32.00 parking ticket after paying with a credit card. On the 4th of July we paid for 2 hours at 4:00pm and was back in 1. The meter was check and is working properly. Our credit card shows a charge. How do we challenge this? Perhaps there should be an investigation? We will not go back to Cape May, NJ

Michael Grossman said...

So far 2 votes for avoiding Cape May because of the parking meter design. I hope someone from there reads this and can see that their implementation really casts a poor light on the entire area.

Paul said...

Yes, I got a $32.00 ticket in Cape May and not happy about it. I'm not a parking scofflaw and would have gladly paid if there were intuitive, logical signing to do that.

I guess that Cape May has found a way to increase revenues with their HORRIBLE parking meter system!!! I'll bet that the designer of this system was selected based on their proposal to generate 10 times more parking revenue! I'm not opposed to paying for parking and would gladly had paid if I KNEW WHERE TO PAY! I stepped on the round placard in the curb - didn't see that. The sign is so small and so high up on the post you can't find it nor read it!

Some suggestions: (1) have signS at eye level that give instructions and POINT to the meter (most people expect a meter at their spot not a common meter, (2)remove the metal placards in the curb - they serve no purpose as people DON'T look DOWN to get instructions on how to pay for parking! and(3)remove the one (1)sign on the post and replace it with four(4)signs that face in all directions to ensure that no matter where you are you can see it!

While I like Cape May, I certainly won't rush back.

Paul

Anonymous said...

My husband and I visited Cape May just recently and we received a parking ticket after paying with a credit card also. We are definitely going to challenge the ticket, but we left that day questioning whether we should go to another shore with less hidden "fees." WE won't be visiting an unwelcoming city like Cape May anytime soon. We'll just take our business elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Visit another seashore community. Don't go to Cape May, because even after you pay for parking with a credit card they'll still issue you a ticket! What an unfriendly place to visit.

Michael Grossman said...

I'm not sure if the town of Cape May realizes that the experience of their town is not just about Victorian architecture tours and clean beaches. People that are in no way trying to elude parking meters are getting fined and that is what they will remember about their vacation, not the weather.

Anonymous said...

Back on 10/03/09 I used my credit card to pay for parking. The parking machine did not give me a receipt, but stated that the credit card transaction was approved and I had 3 hrs of parking. Came back to my car 2.5 hrs later to find a ticket. Called the Cape May courthouse with this info. Clerk informed me that the parking machine was in working order. I am going to attempt to fight this in court, but in either case, I will not be coming back to Cape May. I also noticed more Police than before. Can anybody tell me why the Police is running a ticketing business at the expense of hard working middle class Americans, instead of going after criminals? Isn't that what we pay them for? NJ is just becoming a Police State all over.

Anonymous said...

I had the same unhappy experience when visiting Cape May in October. I too have no trouble paying for parking or even using the new system but I DO have a problem when it is not clearly evident when pulling in all parking spaces what you are expected to do. As for the posts here regarding use of Credit Cards, I would be even more disgusted if that had happened to me. Cape May definitely needs to fix this problem or their efforts to increase revenue via parking tickets will backfire on them.

Anonymous said...

we had a similar problem in cape may. last june, i parked my pickup with slide-in camper on the main street...no other cars on the entire road...went down to henry's for some fried clams...came back to a parking ticket. no rv allowed on main street. not only is my vehicle NOT an rv but there are no signs with parking rules. the passing police officer agreed with us, the court clerks agreed with us, but the judge did not. they know we cant stay to fight a $32 ticket. it left me very disillusioned with cape may and why they need to steal my money. don't i spend enough in the local stores?

Anonymous said...

I just got screwed yesterday in Cape May by their assinine parking system. Has anyone figured out how NOT to pay this ridiculous fine?

Deb said...

Yes it has happened again ,we went to visit Cape May on Friday night,Sept 17th ,2010 and now we are stuck paying a $32. fine.I agree their parking system is bullshit....My solution to solve the problem is to never visit Cape May again...Will stay in Ocean City and just have fun up there..Screw you cape may

bill fig said...

yep I got scammed today, I paid the time for one hour(which is the max you can get!), was five minutes late getting back to my car because it took forever for the deli to make my family 2 sandwiches and a 3 bagels. I saw th parking cop walk by and yelled wtf is this, no grace period? he said there is a grace period already on the one hour ticket. I had no idea what he was talking about. After my wife started cursing at him, I had to get her in the car and get away. Shame I(nor my 3 kids in future) will never go to cape may again because of this.

bill fig said...

yep I got scammed today, I paid the time for one hour(which is the max you can get!), was five minutes late getting back to my car because it took forever for the deli to make my family 2 sandwiches and a 3 bagels. I saw th parking cop walk by and yelled wtf is this, no grace period? he said there is a grace period already on the one hour ticket. I had no idea what he was talking about. After my wife started cursing at him, I had to get her in the car and get away. Shame I(nor my 3 kids in future) will never go to cape may again because of this.

Anonymous said...

They got me too .. No clue I had to pay to park !!! 32.00. I won't pay it .. They must change this .. It's wrong

Anonymous said...

I didn't see a sign and parked there for about 20 min.. I even looked for a sign as i parked.When i cam back to my car a had a ticket, then i looked more and 4 cars away there was a sign at that said something about 3 hour parking.. i saw a officer and said i was only there 20 min. he said you have to buy a parking pass.
then i watched him write more tickets and never told any one they had to buy a parking pass as they parked in front of him he let them walk away then gave them a ticket.
what a scam!!!!

Roberta Winzinger said...

Got scammed by Cape May parking practices when I parked behind some stores in the Washington Street Mall. We saw parking meters along most of streets, but then saw large parking lots behind the shopping mall with no meters. There were several young men on skateboards weaving in and out between cars as we entered Carpenters Lane, and one almost hit the car in front of us. One came zooming up my driver's side and cut in front of my car. We saw a car backing out, waited, and then pulled into the spot. There were no visible clues that it was paid parking in that lot. We got out of the car, and walked on the blacktop up to the walk that entered the mall. We were having a conversation about the skateboarders, and wondering where the police were while these smart assed kids were causing a dangerous situation. We were only out of the car about 30 minutes, when we decided to go on to a restaurant on another street and have dinner. As we parked on the street in front of the restaurant, and dug out quarters for the parking meter, I noticed something under my wiper. I had received a parking ticket on Carpenter's Lane. The cost: $35.00. We immediately got back in the car and returned to Carpenter's Lane. What I found were two small signs, both attached above eye level and at either end of the lot,with arrows pointing "to kiosk". I had to look for the signs and the kiosk to find them. There was nothing indicating that it was paid parking within view of where we parked. I live in New Jersey, and am planning to go back to Cape May and have my day in court. It is at least a two hour drive, plus expenses of gas and tolls. At least that is the plan. I will most likely have to use a personal day from work, so maybe my plan won't pan out, and Cape May will steal my $35. I do plan to write to editors of Cape May area publications, as well as the police and the courts, including each and every judge. It is pathetic. I will NEVER visit Cape May again, unless it is to have my day in court.

Anonymous said...

It's now $35. Same story behind the mall. Poor lighting, absolute little information. I too suggest you take Cape May and shove it. This is poor business. Go elsewhere. Cape May only wants your easy money not your business.