There are few public servants more despised than parking enforcement officers. They seem to be standing there waiting for the last second on the meter to click by and to write us an expensive ticket.
Ultimately we hate them because they enforce rules we don’t like and that cost us money.
Then, there’s the case of some parking enforcement workers in the UK. The British press has reported in several stories that many people were complaining about getting tickets unfairly. They claimed that the photos taken of their cars in the same parking space, supposedly hours apart, must have had their time stamps altered.
How did they know? For one, they knew they hadn’t been gone from their car long. Second, they used some amateur sleuthing. One noticed that the shadow cast by the car hadn’t changed, despite the fact that the photos allegedly were taken at different times. Another noted that in the background of both photos another car was parked with its trunk open. It’s highly unlike a trunk would be left open for hours. Still another noticed that the first photo of her car was taken at a time she knew she was still home in bed. Unless the car had gone on a trip without her, the time shown must have been incorrect.
The authorities at first rejected these claims, but now they are relenting as the evidence of suspicious parking photos keeps pouring it.
So, what led the parking workers to falsify photos? The first part of the answer appears to be pressure to write more tickets. As one former employee put it, “The push for tickets on this site was unreal, I used to get calls, texts and emails at all hours of the day and night, constantly demanding more, more, more.”
The second part of the answer, as reported by the same former worker, was an incentive scheme. Workers were rewarded by the ticket. More, if they issued above a certain number of citations, the bounty per ticket allegedly went up.
In sum, there was tremendous pressure to write more tickets and significant monetary incentives for doing so. What there didn’t appear to be were sufficient controls.
All of this is yet another example of why incentives need to be treated as a risk area. When people are offered a reward for hitting a goal, they are more likely to try their best to achieve it. For some, that will mean cutting corners, bending rules, or just plain cheating.
It doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out of the bath water and get rid of incentives. It means we need to recognize that the incentives to achieve goals create incentives to cheat. As a result, we need controls in place to prevent that cheating. In the case of parking enforcement, it means being sure employees can’t change the date and time stamps on their cameras.
It will be different, obviously, in other organizations and based on the specific incentives. But whatever the incentive, without the proper controls, the risks can grow to dangerous levels, levels that can be far more expensive to remedy than any parking ticket.
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