Everyday UX – Mad at Parking

Pay by Phone Card in San Francisco

Parking is so hard in San Francisco. Sometimes I go to parking lots, but I prefer street parking, it’s cheaper and I can have a chance to practice my rather lame parallel parking skills.

For street parking, people pay parking meters. Once you pay, there are flashing green lights indicating paid parking; if they turn into flashing red, that means parking is expired.

In SF, nickels, dimes and quarters are generally accepted. You can insert credit cards to some of the parking meters while others you can’t. Some also accept “SIM” cards that I’ve no idea what they are. (My question here: why they don’t use the same devices across the city?)

What made me mad was not about these slots. It’s a service called Pay by Phone that allows you to pay parking fee over phone.

It was a Wednesday. I planned to drive my friend to SF airport and found a street parking space (happy & lucky!) close to his hotel. I parked, got out of the car, realizing I was out of quarters and there was no where to insert credit card.

“Ok, let’s try this Pay by Phone thingy.”

I called, typed the location number, my credit card number and minutes I wanted to park. “Your payment has been confirmed.” Said a lady’s voice.

I was about to leave and found the flashing red lights still on. Weird… it said I didn’t pay.

Checked phone number, and my location number again. Correct. But red lights still flashing.

Checked again. “Is this broken?” I patted it. Still red.

Okay. It was still early and I got back into my car. “I want to see how long it took you to turn green.”

10 minutes passed. It was still red.

“Stupid. This is not acceptable. What’s the customer service number?” I started searching “Pay by Phone” in my smartphone, found the company, called the service number and complained to a guy.

“Oh! No worries. You paid and the system already knew it. It’s all good now.”

“Wait.. what’s good? It’s still red, what if my car gets a ticket for that?”

“It won’t. The people will use a device to detect the status…”

“Well how do I know that?!”


“… You can download an iPhone/Android app and check your parking status…”

“I’m using a Windows phone, do you support that?”

“… No.”

“What about feature phones and others?”

“… No.”

“Have you got complaints about this before?”


“Ok, I guess a new user like me doesn’t have a way to find out then. All the confusion can be avoided if you have a small sticker on the device telling people ‘the lights won’t change’.”

“Well… that’s because the local government…”

“I’m not saying a random sticker, I mean you can have company stickers to make it official.”

“Well… that’s because the local government…”

Okay, no need to talk with him anymore. I called the number again, hoping to get a hold of someone else and it happened to be the same guy. I gave up the phone call.

Later, I tried other ways, such as tweeting while @ the company, no response.


After that, I paid over phone a few more times, but I felt nothing can be done for this bad experience, sadly.

Have you had bad experiences like this? Any advice or ways to make our lives easier and happier?

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Everyday UX:

Here I capture things with delightful or painful user experience in everyday life. What things are wonderful to use, and why? And what are a pain in the neck?

Any ideas on how to improve our lives is greatly appreciated! Let me know if you have something to say, too.

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4 Comments Everyday UX – Mad at Parking

  1. Cyn

    Yep, they’ve a ways to go to iron out the experience. I used it for the first time a few weeks ago. It notified me by sms to phone in to add minutes when my meter was about to expire. “How convenient,” I thought. So, I go through the whole process only for it to tell me that I can’t add minutes. Seems, that I’d used up the full 2 hours allowed for the parking spot…

  2. usman

    I have had similar problem before. I went to the beach with my son and parking stations either excepted quarters or pay by mobile. Unfortunately, mobile app was not made for my phone and I was out of quarters. I had cash and credit-cards. After begging a few shops for change in exchange of my $5 bill and being continually rejected. I left the beach and went back home.

    1. yingying

      That’s not a nice experience :( I’m sorry you didn’t make the beach stay. Obviously there’s much room for improving experience in our interactions with these daily services.


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