comments 13

Ticket off

Parking meter in Salem - picture from Henry

Henry e-mails:

“Perhaps this is too obvious: parking meters; and I mean modern digital ones, enforce arbitrary limits on how much you can pay for at a time (4 hours). Is this to share the enjoyment of democratic parking (at a dollar an hour), or some social engineering ploy to force productive members of the workforce to enter the valet service economy, and thus a reminder of the fact that if they work harder, they could afford a driver?”

Tongue-in-cheek aside, there is something unhelpful, to some extent manipulative, designed into a lot of parking ticket machines (as well as some other vending machines). Take a look at the following machine I photographed this morning in a shoppers’ car park in Pinner, Middlesex, UK:

Ticket machine in Pinner, Middlesex
What's the excuse?

What’s the excuse for the ‘No change given – Overpayment accepted’ policy? It’s not as though it’s technically too difficult to give change: these aren’t mechanical penny gobstopper machines from the 1950s. Sure, it would make each machine a bit more expensive to include the change-giving function, but so what? If every one of the hundreds of people who park each day paid, say, 5 pence extra the cost of the more expensive machine would be recouped within a week or two, surely?

Of course, the real reason for the ‘no change given’ policy is that many customers who arrive at the machine without the 50p + 20p (or other combinations needed to make 70p) will put in £1 instead. Thus for a certain percentage of customers, the machine receives 1.43 times the revenue it ought to. I don’t know how many people overpay, but the point is, none of them can underpay. The system is asymmetric. The house always wins.

Does the car park operator (in this case Harrow Council) factor the extra revenue it receives from forcing overpayment into its projected revenues from the machines? Do they record how many people overpay, and use that statistic to plan next year’s budget? Or is overpayment treated as an ‘unexpected’ windfall? Or perhaps, just perhaps, without the overpayment the car park would make a loss?

Any more examples of awful ‘no change given’ implementations, or related anecdotes, musings, etc, much appreciated!


  1. stephen

    Change giving isn’t that simple. It would mean that they would have ensure that each meter was properly stocked with the coins needed to give change. Every day. Imagine how upset get if they expect change and then don’t receive it. Buses also typically don’t provide change for this reason.

  2. Dublin Bus have operated an ‘Exact Fare – No Change’ policy for years now. In the case of over-payment, they issue a ticket receipt which can be exchanged at Dublin Bus HQ.
    Oh, and they don’t accept notes either!


  3. Tom

    The worst example I saw of this was the machines to buy bus tickets. In central london, you have to buy a ticket before getting on board. This wasn’t such a problem when tickets were £1. But when the price went up to £1.20, bus stops were flodded with furious people shouting at drivers.

  4. Dan

    @Stephen: I understand that the machines would have to be stocked properly. But they’re emptied at least once a day anyway, so it’s not as if it would be significant extra work.

    If the prices were set at a level where the likely required change could be predicted (e.g. in the example above, if the price were 80p, and the machine took 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2 coins, then only a stock of £1 and 20p coins would be needed as change, no matter what coins were put in).

    There’s also the possibility of a ‘change low’ light, as often used on rail ticket machines towards the end of the day when the change stock may have depleted. In my experience people don’t despise this as much as knowing they’ll never get any change at all.

    @undulattice: Interesting – that seems very fair, actually giving customers a redeemable receipt for overpayment. I would guess that a large percentage of people never get round to redeeming them, especially if the excess amount is low, but it’s the principle of treating your customers well which is impressive.

    @Tom: That’s a great example. And you know what will happen – the fare will be subsequently increased to £2 for ‘convenience reasons’, whilst also ‘encouraging’ more people to switch to Oyster cards and give up their privacy and anonymity (I think we’ll have to leave the Oyster card debate for another day).

  5. Damien

    I can’t remember which one, but there was a charity in Dublin that started collecting the Bus refund receipts and cashing them as donations. Great idea.

  6. Mike

    London bus tickets. These are now £1.50. I saw a couple trying to buy tickets at the machine – all they had was £1 coins,so they had to pay £4 for two tickets. If they could have paid the driver, they could have got two tickets for £3. Or, of course, if the machine was designed in a way that allowed multiple tickets to be bought with a single payment.

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  8. Here in New York, like most major cities in the US, parking meters are priced way below their market value – so “the house always wins” claim wouldn’t apply here. Anyone able to find a metered spot is getting a real bargain, even if they don’t have the right change.

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  10. Simon

    I have been pondering this question for sometime, firstly how much extra revenue is gained through not giving change, and what they should do with the money, seeing as it is not through choice and i would assume nobody wants to tip…..surely the overpayments should be declared and given to charity, that would make me much happier to overpay. Failing that they should charge by the minute and you get the exact time that you pay for. I think we all know why the parking companies do not give change or offer any other solutions.

  11. willihudso


    Overcharging is illegal everywhere else. It is a dirty little scam
    And what do they do with the money, I dont believe they are legally entitlef to the unfair undue proftovercharge.
    Why cant you get credit for a future parking spell with time unused and overcharges credited

    It is a dirty little scam by thieves fraudsters spivs cheats corrupt chisseling officials, Judases. rats, pirates, highwaymen, hijackers,

  12. Masrjk

    I overpaid at a hospital car park. My wife’s appointment went slightly over the printed time on the ticket. We were slapped on with a ticket. Upon rough calculations i estimated that with the amount I overpaid I would be entitled to stay 11mins over the stated end time. I wrote to appeal against the PCN and was refused! Where is the justice. AND THEY SAY THAT THERE IS MORE CORRUPTION IN THE SO CALLED “DEVELOPING COUNTRIES” OR 3RD WORLD COUNTRIES.

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