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Rolly: Diner enters SLC’s parking ‘Twilight Zone’

By paul rolly

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jul 28 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jul 28 2014 07:33 am

Jim Harle took his wife to Ruth’s Chris Steak House at the corner of 300 South and West Temple on July 1.

But the couple’s otherwise marvelous evening was tainted by Salt Lake City’s parking system.

At a glance

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At around 6:40 p.m., they parked on the north side of 300 South, right next to the restaurant, and went to the kiosk to pay the fee.

Harle keyed in the space number, swiped his credit card and entered the amount of time he needed.

The machine "processed" the transaction for about 30 seconds, then displayed a "card declined" message. Thinking it was a fluke, he went through the process again with the same card, and was declined.

He tried another card from another bank. It was declined. He then used his debit card. Declined. He finally used a fourth card — which was on his business account — and, alas, it was turned down.

Harle spotted another kiosk across the street and tried that one. No luck.

He returned to the original kiosk and noticed it had a "pay by phone" option.

When he called the number, the automated system determined that he did not have a credit card on file and walked him through the process of entering one.

When he got to the point of confirming his ZIP code, the automated voice got confused, as if he had typed extra digits or hit an escape character. He couldn’t break out of that, so he hung up and tried again, only getting stuck at the same part of the process.

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It dawned on him that the system was picking up external noises from the cars driving by and interpreting those as input. So he hung up, muted his phone and called again.

By this time, he had been fiddling with the parking system for about 20 minutes.

Finally, it accepted his credit card information.


Or so he thought.

The system wanted his license plate number, but there was no option to key that in. It was voice only. So he unmuted the phone and dictated the number. But the system repeated back, "TT3789ASKJDHL0908S," a number obviously not even close to what he had said.

He pressed the number to try again, read his plate number at the prompt, and got a similar confirmation.

He decided to confirm the gibberish as his license number so he could finish the transaction. But the automated voice let him know that wouldn’t work.

After a half-hour, he gave up and went into the restaurant, deciding to take his chances on a parking ticket.

He still tried one more time to call the help line. At the voice-mail prompt, he left a flustered message about his parking nightmare.

Harle took the next 10 minutes to calm down. He enjoyed dinner and when he walked to his vehicle, he found on his windshield ... no ticket.

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