Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes happen all the time. I’m generally tolerant towards mistakes made by others, and I point it out when I notice one. If it’s obvious, as expected, it is corrected quickly. However, I become wary when the same mistake is repeated – more vary when the repeated mistake involves money. The general idea I have about people making the same mistake is this:
First time – can be dismissed as a mistake (human error, if you’d call it so)
Second time – possibility of a coincidence
Third time – Possibility of me being taken for a ride
Beyond that – I’m being taken for a ride
The rest of this article speaks about a ‘mistake’ being repeatedly committed by parking attendants who collect the parking fee, in a certain shopping mall in Bangalore, around Bannerghatta Road. Since I haven’t let the administration of that mall know about this, I’m keeping the name of the mall anonymous. My intention is to merely warn people that there is a possibility of a little scam here.
The mall in question houses a multiplex, with seven screens. Each of the halls can house at least 300 people. They run a special promotion on a weekday, where they reduce the price of the ticket by half. On this day, combined with Friday and Saturday evenings, there are at least a hundred people in each auditorium (a practical approximation). Irrespective of whether the customer shops at the mall or not, they charge a fee for parking vehicles. For a four wheeled vehicle, they charge Rs. 30 for up to three hours of parking, Rs. 40 for parking between 4 to 6 hours, and beyond that, I can not recollect. So I’m estimating that there are at least 500 cars that come in for the late night show, that ends at around midnight. I feel this is a valid approximation, given people may not be wanting to get back home in an Auto/taxi at that time (too expensive, too much haggling, …) and that it may not be very safe to use a two-wheeler.
When I enter the mall’s parking space, I’m given a slip which has a timestamp. I present it to the parking attendant when exiting. The computer tells him the fee, and he reads it out to me. The administration has not installed a display that tells the customer the fee – the system depends on the attendant reading out the correct fee and the customer paying the amount. Remember, it’s close to midnight we’re talking about, and most are in a hurry to get back home. The attendant reads out ‘Rs. 40′, the customer pays Rs. 40, and exits. Except, that the customer had parked for under 3 hours. That Rs. 10 he’s made right there. The first time this happened to me, I didn’t realise that I was being overcharged, but upon calculating later, it was brought to my attention that we had parked for only 2.5 hours. The second time this happened, I asked the attendant to repeat the amount, and out came an apology, followed by the correct amount. The third time, I repeated the amount with a questioning intonation, and it was corrected quickly again, with an apology. A fourth time, I handed out a Rs. 50 note, asked for a receipt and got Rs. 20 in return with an apology for quoting the wrong amount. Clearly, something is wrong here.
Let’s do some basic mathematics here. Out of the 500 cars, assume that 350 fall for this trick. That’s Rs. 3500 made in a few hours of working the night shift in addition to the salary (which I suppose includes an allowance for working late night). In a week on just these three days, the collection goes to over Rs. 10,000, which puts it at a total of Rs. 40,000 per month. As you can see, this is a significant amount of money that is made in addition to the salary. Who takes home this money – is it the attendant manning the exit counter, is it split between all of them – I have no idea. (The amount could be less, but even a half of that total is a significant amount)
There is significant difference between the way the numbers 30 and 40 are displayed. I can understand if 30 is misread as 50, or even 80. I tried thinking of ways by which this mistake could have happened repeatedly, to let go of the suspicion on the attendant, but as you can see, there’s none. If you think of why 30 is repeatedly misread as 40, let me know in the comments. I used multiple exits at the mall, and noticed that this happened at all of them – I didn’t notice if it was the same attendant, but remember a girl being present on one of the occasion, and a guy most of the other times. Reading 30 as 40, when it’s clearly displayed on the segmented LCD of the machine, can not be dismissed as human error when it happens multiple times by different people. I’ve noticed this happening predominantly during the night, after 9 PM – I rarely go there during the day, but there’s nothing stopping them from doing it during the day either.
Assuming that people can not be trusted and that a customer’s welfare is in the best interest of the administration, all that the administration has to do is to put up a display that tells the customer how much money he owes as parking fee. The other way is for you to keep track of the time you’ve parked, and ask if you feel the amount quoted is disputable. Ask for a receipt if possible and verify the amount.
It’s only Rs. 10 per head we’re talking about and I’m OK with it if the mall hiked up the parking charges by that figure. What I’m not OK with is someone else making that money by cheating. The amount is small enough to go unnoticed, and if questioned, an apology with the statement that ‘it was a mistake’ rectifies the problem.
That’s a neat little scam they’ve got running there.