Sometimes, a small and fairly inconsequential thing happens, which makes me think: “Hey, I can’t imagine this being handled so efficiently and positively for me in America”.
Natasha received a parking violation ticket a couple of weeks ago. That was before our recent discovery of mobile-phone-enabled payments, but it occurred on a trip to the nearby market, and she never leaves on such trips without enough coins to pay the parking fee. She did procure the appropriate sticker and attached it to the inside of windshield as required.
When she returned to the car a couple of hours later, she found a violation notice attached to the windshield on the outside. The parking sticker was lying face-down on the dashboard. It must have fell off. The text of the notice referred to “failure to pay or to properly display the proof of payment”. The penalty did not distinguish between the two: £50 if paid within 14 days or £100 thereafter…
A letter appealing the fine allows for a timeline reprieve, in that the period to pay the reduced penalty gets reset from the day on which the agency responsible for dealing with parking violations issues you a response. So we feigned ignorance and immediately posted the letter to an appropriate address along the lines of “here is the photocopy of the sticker, which shows that the parking fee was properly paid for the time of the alleged violation; please dismiss the violation case”.
Natasha called the agency a few days afterwards to obtain assurances that the letter had been received and the case was being reviewed, and that if the fine were to be upheld, she would have several days upon receiving the notification to pay a reduced amount.
And today, an official response arrived.
It states, verbatim:
…although a Pay & Display ticket has been produced, the conditions of its use are that the time and date on the ticket must be clearly displayed on the vehicle. The Civil Enforcement Officer has witnessed and recorded that the Pay & Display ticket was face down and could not there be validated. I therefore conclude that the Penalty Charge Notice was properly issued.
…on this occasion only it has been decided that no further action taken; please ensure in future that your Pay & Display ticket is clearly displayed to prevent further Notices being issued.
Wow! All we did was to follow an uncomplicated procedure – and not only did the local bureaucracy deal with it in a quite efficient way, but it actually decided to forgive a proven, if harmless, violation.
I had limited experience in successfully batting down similar problems in the States, but I can’t recall it requiring just a simple letter, turned around in less than a couple of weeks. And can somebody imagine being let off the hook completely in a situation like that, where you guilt has already been officially established as proven?
Must be something about the Europeans being generally “nicer” than the Americans. My friend Alex has recently told me how a local building inspector himself came up with ways of dressing up a minor code violation at their new house into acceptable terms, so that the inspection could be passed. Reminds me of the four visits of an electrician to our old house in New Jersey during our big renovation several years ago, each resulting in a failed inspection on account of some piece of wiring being the wrong color…