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Fixed App Falls Short in Contesting Parking Tickets

The app was piloted in San Francisco, but in a city where it's believed that tech can cure the failings of government, the wait list ballooned.

That app that contests parking tickets for you? You might be better off going it alone.

When Fixed was launched last year, the start-up enjoyed a flurry of glowing media coverage. The idea: Allow people to take photos of their citations on their smartphones, enter some basic information, then send it off to the app's crew of experts to take it from there.

The app was piloted in San Francisco. In a city where it's believed that tech can cure the failings of government, the wait list ballooned.

But city records show that the app's experts are significantly less successful than ordinary people who contest their tickets on their own.

Data from this year show that Fixed got tickets dismissed in an administrative review 20 percent of the time, compared with a 28 percent success rate for the public.

When presented with the numbers by The Times, company founder David Hegarty accused the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency of possibly "willfully discriminating against our contests."

"To rub salt on our wounds," Hegarty said, "when they deny our contests, they do not include a reason for denial."

A spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency denied Hegarty's allegations, saying, "We do not have concerns if people want to use this third-party service.... There is no secret to overturning a citation. If there is a valid reason to dismiss, then that citation gets dismissed."

And he said that when ticket appeals are denied, the agency's staff "do our best to provide as much detail as possible" as to why.

Hegarty intended for Fixed to address meter maid errors and poor signage by the city. When Fixed fails to get a ticket overturned, there's no charge — but the app takes a 25 percent cut for successful appeals. Hegarty said he hopes to expand his operation to other cities including Los Angeles.

The belief that technological innovation can eradicate problems in life and in government permeates much of Silicon Valley. And the region's libertarian streak brings a disdain for the workings of government bureaucracies.

"Government is considered slow, staffed by mediocrities, ridden with obsolete rules and inefficiencies," journalist George Packer wrote in the New Yorker about the valley's ethos.

But given the discouraging numbers facing Fixed, Hegarty said he's considering a more old-fashioned solution in his fight against San Francisco government: litigation.

"It's the last thing we want to engage in, but we're left with no choice but to also start exploring all legal options," he said.

©2014 the Los Angeles Times