Commuter-rail rider sues T, parking-lot operator over fines he says he doesn't owe

A man who might not be able to renew his car registration in October because of fines he's being assessed for parking at the Campello station sued the MBTA, LAZ and the collection agency the T is using this week, charging he and many other riders are being unfairly charged penalties even though they actually made the daily payment for parking.

In his suit, filed in US District Court, Richard Meyer says he and large numbers of other riders are being targeted in a revenue-enhancement scheme by a system that can offer no proof of when the alleged violations took place or even of the tickets that were allegedly issued to the drivers for failing to make payments in the honor boxes that still stand at commuter-rail parking lots.

Meyer said he and other riders who missed a payment when rushing for a train were never given receipts for paying fines - initially $1 per day, now $20 per day - in cash at the stations.

Meyer is seeking to be made lead plaintiff in a class-action suit and is asking for the T's collection agency to stop pestering riders unless they can show proof and to rescind the holds on people's car registrations based on the fines - and penalties on top of those fines.



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    I have no idea what fare

    I have no idea what fare-collection system the parking lots are using now, but I remember 16 years ago when I was talking the Commuter Rail from South Attleboro, we parked in the lot and stuck our $2 in a central gridded collection box somewhere at the station. I always paid, and put the money into the correct slot for my space. A few times, however, when I returned in the evening there would be a manilla collection envelope under my windshield. It wasn't worth the time or the hassle to "appeal" the incorrect violation (and, I wasn't even sure to whom I would make the complaint.) I just paid the $2 again.

    AFAIK, MBTA commuter rail parking lots

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    still use the "honor box" system. The only differences now are that you can no longer pay the violation notice by placing the envelope into the honor box, and the fine - now $21.00 instead of 50 cents - which is nothing but a revenue grab.

    Yeah, they should just leave

    Yeah, they should just leave a stack of blank taxi-style receipts out for people to grab. Do you understand what kind of a "machine" we're talking about here? It's a box with holes in it.

    automated machines don't need to be staffed

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    I think the previous poster meant that the current, low-tech box could be replaced with something out of 25 years ago that spits out a receipt. Ideally while recording the payment somewhere on the machine, or over wire to a system. It wouldn't have to be high-tech and it still wouldn't need the overhead expense of human staffing, same as now.

    Why in the 21st century are

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    Why in the 21st century are we still using antiquated payment systems ripe for fraud and abuse?

    Why in the 21st century

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    are we still nickle and diming people with antiquated systems of parking fees to access a public transportation system?

    That's a good question.

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    That's a good question. Upkeep must cost something, but it's a parking lot, not a building. "Because everybody would use it" isn't a good answer -- if they're transit users, what's wrong with that? "Because it would mean that would use it (who aren't using it now)" doesn't make any sense unless you want to exclude people with less money, because...they've got less money?

    In general, it seems like the purpose of parking enforcement -- ANY parking enforcement -- is to restrict it to a certain group of people. So, transit users. Unless the commuter rail lot is located near some popular destination that doesn't have parking, what's the big deal?

    Because some people still

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    Because some people still want to pay with cash rather than with the mobile parking payment app that the T has been pushing, and for the small-to-medium-sized lots, what else is the T supposed to do? It wouldn't be either feasible or cost-effective to try to gate the lots or provide them with either parking attendants or automated payment machines like the bigger lots have.

    You mean. . .

    . . .it isn't cost-effective to install automated payment machines (like the central payment stations now used in some places around the city) when they can rake in far more revenue by giving fraudulent tickets.

    The current system is inexcusable. The parker can't prove they paid, the T can't prove they didn't and no one can prove whether or not they actually received the ticket, justified or not. At the very least, there shouldn't be legal ramifications in a case where there's no way to track any of the system.

    What is the T to do?

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    Many public parking lots have an electronic kiosk where you can pay in cash or by credit card. It spits out a sticker and you put it on your window/dash. In 2014, expecting people to put in $20 bills with no proof of payment is ridiculous. Hopefully this guy's lawsuit will force the T to move to a less antiquated system.

    Kind of like how in the 21st

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    Kind of like how in the 21st century the trains those passengers are boarding have conductors who must open the doors and walk through the cars checking passes and taking cash.

    Dishonor Boxes

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    In Framingham, a couple of years ago when I still rode the Commuter Rail, we would get those violation forms all the time on days that we had definitely paid. The "Honor" boxes for the back lot were far removed from the platforms and we'd often see people hanging out around them that were NOT riding the train. The metal thing we were supposed to use to push the money in was often damaged or broken off, not sure whether this was because it was being used to steal money or if someone figured out that a broken pusher meant a better chance that the money would be sticking out of the slot enough to grab it...

    Honor box problems

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    It's called an "honor box" because you're relying on people to be honorable. Most people are. Some aren't. That's the burden of using an honor box.

    I put an honor box on a fridge in my dorm suite in college. Some people took sodas and left me the money necessary to replace them. Others didn't. That doesn't mean I try and figure out who didn't and chase them down. That's not an "honor system". That's a required payment and if it's a required payment then the system needs to guarantee payment, not the user.

    If every person's payment was collected from the box and then they went around and put collection envelopes on every single car anyways, what's to stop them? It's a dumb system. The idea that the dumb system can then effect your ability to renew your registration is even dumber.

    We have a perfect solution for this problem:


    I hear Brookline has a bunch of extra ones. Why aren't these being installed instead?

    Consider the City of Melrose

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    At all the Reading/Haverhill line stations in Melrose (West Wyoming Avenue, Melrose Cedar Park, and Melrose Highlands), the parking fees are collected by, and go to, the City of Melrose, and not the MBTA.

    About twelve years ago, the City decided to replace the yellow honor boxes with similar "pay for parking" machines. The City has had so much trouble with reliability (mostly due to failure to properly read credit cards) that they have just replaced the machines for the third time, at $8,500 per machine (that's a total of $76,500 expended since the original conversion).

    My biggest problem with the latest generation of these machines (including the ones in Melrose) is twofold. First, unlike nearly every other credit card reader I've used in my lifetime, they often don't recognize your credit card on the first, second, or sometimes even third swipe. As you have to take the paper receipt and put it on your dashboard before your train comes in, that's unnecessary stress. Second, they have NO provisions for accepting cash should somebody not have, or choose not to use, a credit card.

    I don't know what is it about

    I don't know what is it about those outside parking machines recognizing cards. I've had the same problem, almost as much as I don't have the problem, and it's definitely not restricted to Melrose. I wonder if the reader corrodes over time.

    Had the credit card problem

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    with the new machine at Melrose Highlands two days after it was installed, so I don't think corrosion is necessarily the problem.

    Some do

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    I've never had a problem at any of these boxes with my card and most if not all of the Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge ones I've seen take cash too.

    Finally, if your choice is run back to your car or randomly deal with $21 fines for no reason, you choose your poison...I'd rather have to run back to my car. You can also install more than one of them too so the distance from car to box is minimized for last-second train catchers.

    And if you're willing to settle for $2/space/day instead of $2/car/day (and I'm guessing at commuter rail stops it's probably 90% the same amount), then you can put one in like Brookline uses in places on Beacon Street and you don't have anything to take back to your car. Instead of checking the cars, they check the box and it tattles on which spaces it hasn't seen $2 from (just like the honor boxes do). As long as you punch in the right space number, you're good to go for the day. If you leave early and someone takes your space, they'll find a nice pseudo-pay-it-forward surprise when the machine says their space is already paid for the day.

    But, hey, why use a solution with slightly different (and better) problems to have, like credit card reading, when instead we've got people eating $20 fines or being unable to register their cars, and confusion over who pays every day, and people hanging out around the honor boxes looking to pull the money back out, etc. Clearly, we should just keep it the way they did it in 1953 instead...good idea.

    There's no need to "choose

    There's no need to "choose your poison" when parking machines exist that do not require you to put a physical ticket on your dashboard.

    The likely dilemma created by

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    a balky credit card reader is this: If I run back to my car and place the slip on the dashboard, avoiding a $21 fine, does that result in me missing my train and having to wait thirty minutes for the next one.

    However, as others have pointed out, modern "pay for parking" machines that allow you to input the space number eliminate this problem. Too bad Melrose didn't consider that BEFORE they bought their thrid set of machines earlier this year.

    Sounds more like poor

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    Sounds more like poor selection and service from a vendor. If the system never worked the vendor should have been liable to replace it with one that did.

    Oh, the two previous machines

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    at the Melrose stations worked rather well - until after the warranty period ended. Once they started breaking down (which was usually midway through the fiscal year), the CIty didn't seem too concerned about fixing them in a hurry.

    It was only when they failed completely - the previous machine at Melrose Highlands didn't work for almost six months before it was finally replaced - that the City started taking notice.

    There are better machines.

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    Many parking lots have pay by space. You type your space number in when paying. No need to go back to your car. And you get a timestamped receipt for when someone accidentally tickets the wrong car.

    Also if the card readers are so bad, that sounds like something that should be covered by the company. How did the city buy them without any warranty of any kind?

    Many lots also have machines that accept cash (in the non-crinkled, automated kind of way.)

    Why is it

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    that the MBTA is still using honor boxes, when half of the city is using those multi-space meters that give you a receipt to put on your windshield?

    Everyone knows the technology exists, because it's everywhere.

    It is an employment and

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    It is an employment and benefits authority first and a transportation authority 2nd.

    I used to work for LAZ and

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    I used to work for LAZ and did all of the parking ticket appeals. There were countless times people appealed their parking tickets for paying in the correct slot in the honor box where the money would be jammed in the slot, so it looks empty to the collector but you can see it zooming in on the pictures they take of the box. If people paid with coins in the correct slot, those coins may fall to the bottom of the box or into another slot.
    The hand held computers the collectors use had malfunctioned too many times to count which lead to incorrect violations. The collectors have so much pressure on them to issue tickets and so many spaces to cover that mistakes are inevitable.
    The amount of people who appeal their violations and make up elaborate lies about how they paid or try and edit a parkmobile receipt was probably the funniest part. There was nothing more satisfying than pulling up proof that they didn't pay and shutting their lies down.
    I'm so glad I don't have to pull all of the pictures for every one of this guy's violations. Before the new system, it was a lot easier to let violations go on more of a case by case basis. With the new system and fines, the MBTA oversees every decision I had made on violation appeals, so even if I wanted to give someone a break I couldn't for fear of losing my job.