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I-Team: Commuters Say They’re Being Ripped Off In MBTA Parking Lots

By Karen Anderson, WBZ-TV I-Team
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BOSTON (CBS) – The only thing worse than finding a ticket on your windshield after a long commute home, is finding a ticket when you know you’ve paid for your parking. “I think it’s horrible,” said Kim McLeod who commutes from Wilmington to Boston. “This is near extortion,” said Rick Marra whose wife commutes from Ashland to Boston.

We are talking about cash payment systems used at many of the commuter rail parking lots around the state. Drivers place four dollars in cash in a slot that corresponds with their parking space. The question is, does this system work?

The I-Team spoke with 16 commuters who all say they have been repeatedly ticketed even though they are sure they paid the money. They are also sure they placed the money in the correct slot. Garret Diggins commutes every day from Grafton to State Street Bank. He said he’s had little trouble for years, but that changed recently. “Over the last month, I’ve gotten three tickets,” he said.

Rick Marra told us he can’t understand why his wife keeps getting fined. “You know once, OK, fine… three or four times, no something’s going on here,” he said.

The I-Team’s undercover cameras watched as a parking lot attendant in Wilmington emptied the boxes of cash. Per MBTA policy, the attendant first takes a photo of what’s inside. Our video shows the attendant moving the cash around with a wire in an apparent effort to get a better view of what is in each of the individual boxes. “I don’t even know how that can be accurate,” Marra said.

The I-Team obtained a sample of what that photo looks like. Marra called it a flawed system. “I use $2 bills,” he said. “How can they be sure that it’s four dollars in the picture.”

In a statement, the MBTA told the I-Team,

The “honor box” system is by no means perfect, and that’s why the MBTA offers other, more convenient options for paying parking fees. Thousands of customers skip the honor boxes by using “pay by phone” or monthly passes, and the T encourages more people to try these easy methods.

“I actually have a friend who does that, uses the app on her iPhone, and they screwed that up too,” McLeod told us.

These commuters feel like they are victimized over and over again when you factor in additional fines and surcharges. If you fail to pay the ticket it is a $1 surcharge. If you don’t get it in the mail within three days, it’s another $20. Paying online is quicker and easier, but that costs $3.50. You can appeal, but the ticket says if you lose, you risk another $20 dollar fine. “A lot of people elect not to appeal and just pay the fine and be done with it,” Diggins said.

The statement from the MBTA addressed that as well.

The MBTA understands that some people are not pleased with the new penalty structure, but it’s absolutely necessary because the previous system did not serve as a deterrent to scofflaws. The previous structure was costing the MBTA thousands of dollars a month because many people simply ignored “failure to pay” notices.

Kim McLeod says she started taking photos of herself to have some sort of proof that she paid. “You pay enough to commute into Boston between the MBTA and the commuter rail and the parking and then you end up paying double. It’s ridiculous,” she said.

The MBTA says only a fraction of commuters have complained about the system. They have, however, recently eliminated the $20 fee for lost appeals. Tickets should reflect that change soon.

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