To all you exhausted, bleary-eyed commuters who park at the Princeton Junction train station daily lot and pay your honest $5 per day, this letter is for you: Beware! And to the West Windsor Parking Authority (WWPA) and the Township of West Windsor Municipal Court: Shame on you!
For 20 years I have been a daily commuter out of the Junction. Why I have never applied for permit parking, who knows, but perhaps the four to nine-year wait list had something to do with it. Regardless, I arrive at the train station in the dark each morning at 5:15 in time for the 5:19 express to New York. I sprint to the parking kiosk to insert my $5 token and parking space number for daily parking. Like everyone else, I dash to the train through wind and rain, sometimes sleet and snow but certainly always in the dark of day.
Last week I arrived back one evening and discovered a parking ticket on my windshield. It read, “168-42. FAILED TO PAY SLOT BOX PARKING SPACE.” I said this can’t be so! I frantically slashed through my purse to find the parking receipt from my morning visit to the kiosk. I found it. Whew, I said to myself, thinking that perhaps I mistakenly by-passed the kiosk that morning out of haste — something I’d never done in 20 years! But, yes, I had my receipt, which states at the top “Retain as proof of payment” — which I did!
I looked again at the ticket, then back at my receipt. Again at the ticket. Confused. And I finally spot the error in my ways. I walk around behind my car to see the painted parking slot number on the pavement. Silly me, I said. I mistakenly entered No. 488 in the kiosk that morning when now I can see during the light of day and on knee-close examination, the slot was a faded No. 489. At 5:15 that morning in the rain and darkness, the 9 looked like an 8, I guess. Or maybe I hit an 8 instead of a 9 on the kiosk buttons. I can’t remember, but the fine is a hefty one: $60! Surely I can show them my receipt and explain what happened — an honest and reasonable human error.
The next morning I phone the West Windsor Parking Authority to explain my silly mistake. The nice woman says there is nothing she can do but that I can go to court and plead my case. Hmmm, I say, really? After 20 years of parking at the station (a quick calculation represents nearly $25,000 in parking slot fee revenue to the Township from me alone!), I need to take a day from work and plead my case — to the West Windsor Municipal Court — on a $5 parking space that I can prove I paid for? Really? I request to speak to the officer who gave me the ticket and plead my case to him instead — which I did. Similar response. There is nothing I can do. In fact, he said, off the record, “you should just plead guilty and pay the $60 because no one has ever won a case and they will just charge you court fees!”
So my advice to my commuting friends: Make no mistake when entering your parking space number each day, and there is no need to retain your proof of payment receipt — no one wants to see it. Perhaps my recent experience is the result of a $70,000 operating loss last year by the West Windsor Parking Authority. Maybe the new daily parking kiosks being installed next month will give the Parking Authority a needed perspective on human ethics. But at the end of the day, it is just plain frustrating to feel helpless.
It is said that the municipal court system can have a great influence over how the public perceives the justice system as a whole, and now I have but a small taste of how the West Windsor court system has influenced my perspective.