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The country's two cellular parking services market themselves as convenient, simple and worthwhile. While may be just that for many drivers, there are those for whom the service has proven exactly the opposite: customers who receive tickets even though they have paid for parking.

Pango and Cellopark allow drivers to record their parking activities through phone calls or text messages to the companies. Users are charged for those activities later, and local parking inspectors have the technology to ascertain whether the driver of a parked car has paid for that space.

By the companies' own admissions, there are rare occasions when customers mistakenly receive tickets, even though they've paid to park. As it turns out, while the parking services have proof that their customers did, in fact, pay as required, the services will not help customers get the tickets canceled. Instead, drivers are forced to fight the ticket through the municipality.

Attorney Nimrod Koslovsky parked his car on Tel Aviv's Nahmani Street last Thursday. He paid for the spot via Cellopark. While parked, he received a text message that his car was being checked by a city inspector. He returned to the car three hours later to find a ticket.

An urgent call to Cellopark revealed that his payment was registered in the company's system, and that the malfunction was in the inspectors' terminals. When Koslovsky contacted the municipality, he was told he would have to submit a written request to cancel the ticket. He was also told he could not pursue his request through the parking company, even though it possessed the relevant information.

L., a Pango customer, had a similar experience in Tel Aviv, and she and Koslovsky are not alone. Dozens of similar complaints have been posted on various online forums. The pattern in all cases is the same: A ticket was issued despite the properly registered parking and drivers are told they must deal directly with the city to get it canceled.

An 'unnecessary' burden

Koslovsky argues that this puts the driver at a disadvantage. "The burden of proof is on you, the citizen, even though you have nothing in hand to prove your case," he says. "If the municipality wants people to have faith in the electronic payment system it offers, and wants the customer to see it as a natural payment option, they have to take on the burden of handling cases in which something goes wrong."

Koslovsky insists he should have had to do nothing more than submit the ticket number, and the problem should have been solved. "The fact that I'm now waiting to see if the appeal is accepted means I'm busy with something that was totally unnecessary.

"The responsibility for checking the reliability of the communication systems should fall upon Cellopark and the municipality; they have a business arrangement," he adds.

The Tel Aviv municipality acknowledges that there may be periods of unusual pressure on the system that make it difficult for the service to work properly. However, it also claims that "when there is a general or unusual malfunction, the municipality is aware of it and instructs inspectors not to issue parking tickets."

In addition, the municipality says, appealing a ticket should not be a hassle. It merely requires one to submit a short appeal by mail or fax and attach the required information. The city will cancel the ticket if necessary.

But Koslovsky says placing the responsibility for the undeserved ticket on the customer illustrates how computer systems meant to streamline customer service can, instead, become obstacles.

Irit Goldberg, marketing manager for Pango, confirms that the company periodically gets complaints like Koslovsky's. "There are very few instances of a communications problem between the system and the inspectors' terminals for reasons that have nothing to do with us. Or the person might have parked in an area that is restricted to those with a local resident sticker, and a customer might get a ticket even though they operated Pango," she says.

She notes that in those instances, the customer's parking record can be downloaded via the Internet, "and we'll even send it to them if the customer has no Internet access." Goldberg says the municipality will cancel the ticket if there was a communications problem, but that, "legally we cannot appeal on behalf of the customer."

Guy Selok, of Cellopark, explains that when a parking inspector makes an inquiry, the Cellopark system responds one of two ways: paid or not paid. He adds, however, that the company has no way of knowing whether a ticket was issued or not, and says the company has only received isolated complaints.

"Dealing with a parking ticket must be done directly with the municipality, because the customer must appeal and identify himself directly to the municipality," Selok says.