Parkmobile, a company that runs an app by which smartphone users can pay for on-street metered parking, recently found itself bullied by a powerful liberal Democratic senator, simply for exercising its freedom of speech. The company found itself on the receiving end of Sen. Dick Durbin's wrath for having sent an email to its users in which it chalked up an increase in its transaction fees to "increased costs triggered by recent federal legislative reform enacted by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act's Durbin Amendment."
According to the Washington Post's Dina ElBoghdady, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) shot off a letter to the company hitting the claims as "grossly misleading." On top of that, Durbin sent another letter to Washington, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray, complaining that the company, which has a contract with the federal city's government to do business, "offer[ed] up incorrect, unsolicited legislative analysis while hiding behind poorly reasoned excuses for their own price hikes."
For their part, Washington Post editors placed the 12-paragraph November 3 story on page A13, bearing a headline which placed blame for the row on Parkmobile: "Parkmobile causes scuffle with blame for fee hike." "Company apologizes after pointing to Dodd-Frank and Durbin," added the subheader.
Indeed, Parkmobile walked back their initial claims after receiving the testy letter, noted ElBoghdady:
Laurens Eckelboom, the company's vice president of marketing, said that Parkmobile made "an overly simplistic statement about the underlying cause of increasing card transaction fees" and "left the potentially confusing impression that Federal legislation is to blame."
But even so it seems Parkmobile still holds that the fee hike might not have been needed had not it been for the unintended consequences of financial reform legislation passed by liberal Democrats like Durbin:
In a separate e-mail to customers who complained, Parkmobile said that when Durbin's measure capped the fees that card companies can charge, the companies responded by raising the fees across the board to the maximum limit. Parkmobile's processing costs tripled as a result, and it put off passing along the increase until this month, when it offered customers a new service designed to lower the fees, the company said.
Parkmobile's service provides convenience that the user is willing to pay a bit extra for. Rather than fishing around for loose change in your car seats, you simply pay via smartphone with a linked credit card. Parkmobile makes its money through the corresponding usage fees it tacks on. It's the price of convenience, convenience that includes a text-message reminder of when your time on the meter is about to expire.
It's worth the expense, and yet, to the Washington Post, it's the company that's the bad guy, not the irate senator attempting to bully them into submission.
[For full disclosure I have a Parkmobile account and have used it precisely one time to pay for parking in downtown D.C. I have had no contact with officials at Parkmobile, where doubtless I am just one in a sea of many occasional users.]