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So I racked up a few parking tickets over the past few months… (suddenly, parking control started enforcing the parking regulations on my street, and I slept in a few days and got dinged for parking in excess of the time limit). Last week, I decided that I should pay them lest they go to court and I end up paying all kinds of service fees. I figured, being the on-line super-connected living-on-the-web kinda guy I am, I’d pay through the City of Ottawa website. What a nightmare.

First off, let’s talk about this “convenience fee.” That’s right, they charge a “convenience fee” for this “service.” This is something I noticed a few weeks ago when I went to renew my liscence plates at a Kiosk: I was charged a “convenience fee” for that as well – this time by the provincial government.

I have two problems with this “convenience fee.” It’s pretty much the words “convenience” and “fee.” First, let’s talk about “convenience.”

The fee payment section of the City of Ottawa website is a usability mess. When you get to the section for fee payment, you are given the option of searching for tickets based on your liscence plate number or by infraction number. Since I knew I had a number of infractions, I figured I’d search by plate number. When the results came back, I was presented with my four outstanding fines and a payment button. To my dismay, I found that I was only able to select one ticket to be paid at a time – what a pain in the ass – so I selected a ticket and moved on to the payment screen, where it showed me my fine plus the $1.50 “convenience fee” and I entered my credit card information and clicked submit. Then, rather than sending me back to the list of my other infractions (if they wouldn’t let me pay them all at once, this is the least they could have done), I got kicked back out to the main page where I had to search for my tickets again! I had to go through the entire process a total of four (count ’em, 1-2-3-4) times! And had to pay this “convenience fee” each time! Why the hell can’t I pay them all at once? Even if you’re going to rape me for the “convenience fee” on each one, at least let me pay it and my tickets all together – I mean, forcing me to re-live the experience over and over is a touch cruel, don’t you think?

What was it I was paying for again? Oh yeah… “convenience.” If by “convenience” you mean, “give us your wallet and bend over while we have our way with you and by-the-way how many tickets did you have ’cause we’re gonna have to violate you at least that many times” then I guess the whole experience was really worth it.

Although, I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the entire concept of a “convenience fee” for this type of transaction is COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS!!!!! To wit:

Let’s say I go into a City of Ottawa office to pay my tickets or to the Ministry of Transportation to renew my plates or whatever. What is their overhead on that transaction? How much are they paying that bitchy-little-know-it-all behind the counter? What about her over-paid-long-lunch-taking-I’m-way-too-important-for-you supervisor? And what about all those computers that nobody seems to know how to use lying around the office? Let’s not forget the tech support for those systems, and I bet they’re paying a pretty penny for the real estate their offices are sitting in. (throw in any additional costs you can think of – I’m sure there are plenty)

Now, by comparison, what does it cost them when I pay through their website? To be fair, I’m sure they paid enough to have the piece of crap built – hell, I’m in the business – I can probably ball-park it. But that’s pretty much a one-time cost. Once the thing’s up, if built well it should take care of itself. There are some maintenance fees, and some content management and site updating issues, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that their costs on this type of transaction are considerably lower than what I described above.

To illustrate my point further, let’s look at the online banking industry. President’s Choice Finanicial, launched 3 or 4 years ago, is offering wicked accounts with no fees, lower interest on credit, higher interest on savings accounts, good mortgage rates, and even rebates on groceries. How do they do this? They’re strictly online: low overhead. They have a handful of kiosks in Loblaws stores, a head office, a good website, and a massive call centre. Same with ING Direct. Want another example? Why are all the products on such good prices and how do they get away with free shipping? Because you never need to talk to a person or enter a store in a mall: low overhead. There are tons of examples in the private industry of companies taking their business online and passing the savings on to the customer. This seems right.

So why am I paying more for city services online? Aren’t I saving them money, in effect?

I asked them as much and forwarded my above criticisms to them in a note I sent through their feedback form. This is what I got in response:

Good Morning,

Thank you for your feedback. The fee is charged to defray the cost of operating the on-line payment service from the tax payer.



Parking Ticket Inquiries

Client Service Centre

Oh, really. Well, I guess that answers that… Hey- wait a second – I pay taxes! And, oh yeah, I’m pretty sure most of the people who use this site could claim the same thing! And, wait a second… didn’t I just save you money by using this online service? Yeah, I thought so.

Hey- thanks for getting back to me and everything Lori, it’s nice to have gotten a response from a real person and not just some form letter and all, and I really hope you don’t take this personally but, FUCK YOU, YOU RIGHTEOUS BITCH!