News at 11: The Philadelphia Parking Authority Screwed Up

When local TV news is at its best, city blunders get exposed

It’s easy to take shots at local TV news for so many things, from its weather fetish to the ridiculous exclusives, like WPVI’s recent interview with a “real-life vampire” (i.e., some goth dude who wears fangs).

When they get a story right, though, we tend to just nod from our couches or beds, and then nod off. Maybe you’ve given up on the 11 o’clock news altogether. But there are some reporters around town who deserve their props, and one caught my attention last week.

In case you missed it—and the ratings for local news indicate that’s likely—Action News consumer reporter Nydia Han took aim at the city agency we all love to hate—the Philadelphia Parking Authority. No gimmicks, no gotcha set-ups. Han simply walked down Walnut Street between Broad and Rittenhouse Square with a credit card and tried to buy time on those fancy green kiosks the PPA installed last year for our parking convenience.

Only one out of nine accepted her plastic.

Turns out those kiosks operate on a wireless connection. If the signal drops, you’re out of luck if you’re short on quarters or cash. The service provider? AT&T.

So the next time you can’t pay to park downtown, and you can’t get enough bars on your iPhone to Google a garage, you’ll have the unholy union of the PPA and AT&T to thank for your frustration.

And just when you think the PPA couldn’t infuriate you any more, Han discovered that even if you use cash, those kiosks are taking you for a ride. The signs say 25 cents gives you eight minutes of curbside real estate. Two quarters only gave Han 15 minutes. Four quarters left her a full two minutes short.

Corrine O’Conner, the PPA spokeswoman interviewed in the report, looked like Tony Hayward on Capitol Hill when asked about those missing minutes. “We’re going to change the signage to state that it’s $2 for one hour of parking,” she said.

Leave it to the Patronage Authority—er, Parking Authority—to take a good idea, screw it up, and screw you in the process.

Add this to the long list of offenses the PPA is guilty of inflicting on the four-wheeled public. A labyrinthine appeals process. A haphazard tow policy. An inaccessible customer service department. The hell that is the 9th and Filbert traffic court, where dreams and rational arguments go to die. The stormtroopers who claim they can’t stop writing a ticket once they start, even if you’re standing there with a fistful of quarters you fetched because the stinkin’ machine didn’t accept your Mastercard.

Han pledged to follow up her report in a couple weeks. If you don’t tune in, look for it on the Action News website. We need to support the pit-bull reporters like Han—on TV, in print, and on the web—who are keeping the city honest and rattling some hornets’ nests. Sadly, they’re an endangered species these days.

And in the meantime, if you’re parking downtown, bring plenty of cash.