To live and drive in Los Angeles is to know the utter powerlessness of getting a parking ticket from the Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau. Bad enough the ever-present totem pole-esque stacks of parking-restriction signs; bad enough the always increasing fees; bad enough that the bureau doles out $73 violations on street-sweeper day for parking on streets that the city isn't even cleaning.
The final insult comes if you try to contest a parking ticket. Your effort will almost certainly be shot down — not by a judge or a Parking Violations Bureau employee, mind you, but by some employee for Xerox, the company to whom Los Angeles City Hall has outsourced the job of making your life miserable.
A newish app promises to change all that. At least for some of us — 20 to 30 percent of us, to be exact.
"In most big cities, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco, parking tickets have been used as this revenue racket," says David Hegarty, co-founder and CEO of Fixed. "People have felt so helpless and frustrated with the whole situation. We capitalize on that frustration."
Fixed was launched about a year ago, first in San Francisco, then in Oakland, and began servicing Los Angeles last month. It works like this: Download the free app (available for iPhone and Android). Unknowingly park illegally. Get a ticket. Open the app, which will ask you to photograph the ticket and mark a box indicating on what grounds, if any, you think the ticket is B.S.
Fixed will then assign to your case some paralegal up in the Bay Area, often a recent college grad. The company has software (and, this being Silicon Valley, an "algorithm") to determine the best ways of fighting your ticket.
Like cops, parking officers have to follow certain rules when they write a ticket. They need to correctly write down your license plate number. For many violations, the parking sign must be within a certain distance from your car (in San Francisco, it can't be more than 100 feet away; in Los Angeles, of course, the law is written far more ambiguously, stating that the sign must be close enough for a "reasonably observant" person to see).
Sometimes Fixed employees won't find any reason to contest the parking ticket. But more often than not, they'll find something, and they'll write a letter to the court or ticketing agency on your behalf.
"Hopefully," says Hegarty, "four to six weeks later, you'll get a letter saying your ticket was dismissed."
The good news is that you only pay Fixed if they get your ticket thrown out. If they succeed, you pay them 35 percent of the ticket fine you avoided.
The bad news is that they only win, according to Hegarty, about "20 to 30 percent of the time."
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Street-cleaning tickets, he says, are "some of the most winnable. They’re rife with errors. Frequently, the officer is in a rush to write tickets ahead of the street-cleaning vehicle. They tend to omit information."
Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Fixed's success rate in San Francisco was only 20 percent – lower than the success rate of the average citizen fighting a ticket on his own, which the Times said was 28 percent.
Hegarty insists that his company's win rate is generally a bit higher than 20 percent, depending on the type of ticket. He adds: "We tend to contest a different type of ticket than what users typically contest. From what we see, we have a higher win rate than the public."
Either way, using Fixed to fight tickets saves you a lot of research, paperwork, phone calls and hassle. Maybe that's why Fixed plans to expand rapidly, spreading out to around 20 cities by the end of the year, and 100 cities by the end of 2016.