Here’s why you should always take a picture of your car after you get a parking ticket

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By Christopher Elliott

I don’t know what to do about Clare Goyette’s case with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. I’m about to move her case into the “unsolved” file, but thought I would ask you before I did. Maybe I’ve overlooked something.

Goyette rented a car from Dollar on a recent visit to Philadelphia and parked the car along the 1900 block of Sansom Street.

“A city parking official assisted me with the parking kiosk and walked to my car with me and remarked that the receipt is to be displayed on the curb side of the car,” she says.

When she returned to the car, she discovered a citation — probably written by the same helpful attendant who had followed her to the car, but we don’t know that for sure. It fined her $301 for parking between two handicapped spots.

“I’m a fairly smart traveler and clearly know the difference between handicapped spaces and non-handicapped spaces,” she says. Also, the citation had the location of her parked car wrong. She was actually parked a block away from where the alleged violation occurred.

The appeal

The Philadelphia Parking Authority allows motorists to appeal a citation in writing, and since Goyette doesn’t live in Philly, she decided to go that route. She attached documentation and street maps to bolster her claim and even included a notarized letter and, to make sure they received the appeal, asked for a return receipt.

A week later, Goyette called the office and was told that the person who had signed for the letter “didn’t exist,” but that it hardly mattered — her appeal had been denied. The Parking Authority then sent a bill to Dollar, which in turn charged her American Express card $326 — $301 for the citation and a $25 “service” fee.

“The amount is now disputed through American Express,” she says. “I am due the right of appeal.”

No easy way out

Maybe she is, but I don’t see an easy way out of this one. If she wins her appeal, Dollar will be stuck with the parking violation, which goes to the owner of the car, not the driver. For $326, they might not send the bill to a collection agency, but she’ll be blacklisted from renting from Dollar. (Related: Dollar raised my rate from $105 to $431 — but why?)

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It seems the only way to appeal this is in person, which isn’t an option. Looks as if the Philadelphia Parking Authority — a city agency with a reputation for aggressively collecting fines — is $326 richer. (Here’s our guide to renting a car.)

The lesson to the rest of us: Always take a picture of your car when you get a ticket. That way, you can prove your innocence when you appeal your case in writing. If Goyette had photos, she might have won this.

My success rate in contacting cities who have issued incorrect parking tickets is zero. But I was hoping that one of you, dear readers, would have a suggestion for me. How can my advocacy team and I help Goyette fix this? Better yet, how can she fix this ticket herself?

Should I mediate Clare Goyette's case?

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Update (4/9): Looks like the Philly parking gods have answered Goyette’s prayers. Shortly after this story appeared, I was contacted by representatives from the Parking Authority. And today, I received a note from her that the case had been dismissed.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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