A human response to a letter from a scary robot demanding £100

The other day I got an official-looking letter in the mail telling me I owed a £100 parking fine.

The letter itself was a small masterpiece of behavioural economics:

  • It was on official-looking letterhead, including the prominent word 'reminder' (despite this being the first communication I had received).
  • A big scary Johnson Box at the top had the key amount and call to action boldly displayed
  • There was even a ‘pay right now and save £40’ option designed to short-circuit my instinct to sit down and think it over.
See how effective this all is?

See how effective this all is?


I can easily imagine how it could have nudged someone into sitting down with a sigh and writing a cheque.

But on closer inspection, it appeared that I was being charged £100 for the shocking infraction of staying in a car park for 1 hour and 8 seconds, having only paid for an hour of parking.

Do the math, guys -- I was 8 seconds over.

Do the math, guys -- I was 8 seconds over.

A private firm (and proud provider of ‘Car Park Solutions,’ whatever those are) had installed a camera that snapped me entering and leaving the car park. Grainy B&W photos of my car were included in the letter, further bolstering their Orwellian case against me.

So I paid for an hour. I stayed for an hour and 8 seconds. And somewhere, in some distant business park, a machine whirred into life and automatically cranked out a letter.

Here is the response I submitted to the company website:

I recently received this notice, which I am contesting on the grounds that I did in fact buy a ticket to park at The White Horse on May 30th of this year (see attached pic of the ticket, which by some miracle was still in my car, having survived my recent attempt at cleaning).

It appears that you are trying to get £100 out of me because I arrived at 14:49:03 and left at 15:49:11 -- 8 whole seconds over the one-hour mark. You will have quite an uphill battle to fight in court, proving that there The White Horse incurred any major cost by my staying in its car park for 8 seconds longer than was paid for.

Something tells me that this scary, intimidating letter -- that this whole incident, in fact -- was automatically generated by a machine, as any sane or caring human being would have given me the benefit of the doubt and thrown in the 8 extra seconds free of charge. Ah well, human beings are in short supply these days. Give my regards to your creepy robot overlords.

Keep fighting the good fight, people.