Rental car customer is driven mad by a ticket

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Imagine you're having lunch in Wormleysburg. This may be difficult because, other than Rand-McNally, who's even heard of Wormleysburg? (It's a little borough just outside Harrisburg.)

Anyway, you're minding your own business -- as if you could do anything else in Wormleysburg -- when you're issued a parking ticket in Philadelphia, 100 miles east.


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Brian O'Neill's book, "The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-first Century," is available in the PG store.

Heather Schwartzmiller-Rymuza, of Dormont, is in this pickle now. Seems she rented a car in mid-May to take a business trip to Harrisburg, and while she was having lunch with a colleague at Duke's Riverside Bar & Grille on the storied Susquehanna, a parking officer placed a ticket on a black Toyota on South 12th Street in Philadelphia.

That shouldn't have been her problem. Ms. Schwartzmiller-Rymuza rented a gray Chevy from the Avis office on Stanwix Street. But about a week after her return, she received a vehicle violation notice from Avis telling her of this Toyota's ticket.

It's just one of those nutty mixups that can be taken care of with one phone call, right?

Not on your autographed picture of Franz Kafka.

Ms. Schwartzmiller-Rymuza emailed Avis the receipt from the restaurant showing she'd been served in the Wormleysville restaurant at 11:18 a.m. on May 15, just three minutes after the Toyota was ticketed in Philadelphia. Even the Dukes of Hazzard couldn't race 100 miles that fast, and those boys had a Dodge Charger, not the Equinox that Avis had rented Ms. Schwartzmiller-Rymuza.

She also sent Avis her credit card receipt, which had been issued at 11:53 a.m., still not enough time to be in two places at once. So together with the fact that Avis had not rented her a Toyota, this should have been a slam dunk. But two weeks ago, she got a letter from the city of Philadelphia saying she'd been fined $301 for parking in a handicapped spot.

The license plate on the black Toyota nearly matched the one on her rental car, but for one extra digit on the end. So, again, she supplied receipts, proof of her business trip, affidavits from colleagues, proof of registration for her vehicle, even a picture of the back bumper on her own car showing her license plate, as requested by the city.

It's under review, but she plans to contest the ticket at a hearing in Philadelphia if needed. She shouldn't need to make a 600-mile roundtrip when only someone with a mailing address in Metropolis could get from Philadelphia to Wormleysburg in three minutes. The way turnpike tolls are, she'd barely break even, even if she won. But so far things have not gone her way.

This past Monday, Avis charged her credit card $30 so it could supply Philadelphia the rental car information. About two weeks before, some company automaton had written her a "Dear Heather'' letter:

"The research requested has been completed and based off of the findings you are responsible for the administrative fee. You may go online and check the status of your account at www.avisrentalfine.com or call us at the number below for further details.''

I called the number and entered that common purgatory of the modern age: waiting on a company's ironically named "service'' line -- this is "service'' in the same way that a bald guy is called "Curly'' -- while being instructed to press a series of numbers to no evident purpose apart from getting one off the phone. So I emailed Avis' media relations office. Some hours later, an Avis spokesman responded that the company was "working directly with Ms. Rymuza to reach a resolution."

Ms. Schwartzmiller-Rymuza, who's an analyst for a health insurance company, says she has managed to reach roughly a half-dozen humans on this matter in the past couple of months. She figures she's put in eight to 10 hours, including hold time and research, and isn't giving up.

"I'm not paying it. I wasn't there,'' she said. "How many other people just pay the ticket just because?''

She left the sentence there, an echo of the situation itself. The system is designed by administrators to drain both time and patience. It's precisely because these aren't matters of life or death that bureaucrats often win them. They're set up to have you give up.

"I'm not giving Philadelphia $300,'' Ms. Schwartzmiller-Rymuza said.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.'' I always thought that an uncharacteristically violent image for him, but he had a long summer in Philly in 1776, and maybe he'd just fought a parking ticket.

brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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