June 27th, 2006

little blue dog


What's your acceptable erroneous undercharge payment (AEUP) threshold?

Yesterday I drove to work, which is rare, and parked in a pay-by-the-hour parking structure. If you leave within 4 hours, it's cheap, but if you stay over 4 hours, you jump up pretty fast to the maximum daily charge.

When it was my turn at the cashier, I had been at the lot for 4 hours and 6 minutes. The attendant told me "5 dollars," although the digital readout said "8 dollars." I said "You sure? The thing says 8." He reassured me it was ok, so I paid and drove through the gate.

However, while I was waiting on the driveway to enter traffic on the street, he ran up and tapped on my window: "It was 8, I am sorry."

"Well, wait ... you told me 5, so I paid 5." He shrugged his shoulders, so I did too, and drove away, only to have to stop about 50 feet down the street for the signal.

The guy chased me down in the street while I was stopped, and repeated "It was 8 dollars."

I looked back; there were other cars waiting at his station to be cashed out, and my light had turned green. I was irritated at his persistence, but explained that I paid what he told me, then drove away.

It was such a weird incident that I thought about it for the rest of the day. What really intrigued me is that I had made up my mind so quickly that I was not going to pay that three dollars, no matter what the guy did.

But why not? It's three bucks. Something like that doesn't represent any burden to me financially, and yet it mattered enough to this guy that he left his station to chase me down, twice, to ask for it. But I don't know if my AEUP threshold is a set amount, because I don't know if I would have paid even one dollar.

So then I started wondering if maybe my personal AEUP threshold is more a proportional thing. But if someone said "The price is 600 dollars" and I paid, and then said "I'm sorry, it was actually $603," I still don't know if I'd willingly pay the difference.

Maybe it's a kneejerk reaction. If a company sets a price and I pay it, it seems odd for the terms to be changed after the transaction has completed.

But it's a one-sided kneejerk reaction, since I'm fairly certain that my AEOP (acceptable erroneous overcharge payment) threshold is zero.

Probably I'm just a cheapskate, or an indignant and self-important entitlement bitch. However, I'm strangely uncomfortable with the "well, HE deserves to pay three bucks out of his pocket to keep his till even" line of reasoning.

(On the other hand, maybe it was an act of kindness of him to charge me the 4-hour rate, rather than the more-than-4-hour rate ... on the other other hand, maybe I would have gotten out of there under 4 hours if the cashiers didn't leave their stations to chase after undercharged patrons, etc. etc.)

Maybe if his manner was more sincerely apologetic and friendly, and less matter-of-fact and curt, that would have changed my mind?

Still, I hope the guy didn't get in trouble. That was weird.
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