Joshua Browder, marketeer extraordinary, has just announced that he has received $4.6m in seed corn funding for his DoNotPay venture from venture capitalists. This is on top of the $1.1m raised two years ago. Mr Browder is only 22 and looks well on his way to success. The only problem is that, if you test DoNotPay/parking, it is not actually very good and certainly nowhere near as helpful as other sites covering the same issue.
DoNotPay is now the name of a suite of programmes that take up a range of problems – including finding hidden money in fees, past subscriptions and more’. Unfortunately, you cannot get the app in the UK, at least for iOS devices. So, to test the product, you have to return to the original DoNotPay/parking which allows challenge of parking tickets. This was originally reviewed in September 2016 under the headline ‘Bots are good but content is better: lessons from he curious case of Mr Joshua Browder’.
The verdict three years ago was that Mr Browder’s content was outpaced by his competitors: ‘The deficiencies [of DoNotPay] become clearer if you start to look at more prosaic (but more thorough) sites that deal with parking disputes. In England, you generally have a right of ‘informal challenge’ to the relevant local authority over a parking ticket. You can then, if still dissatisfied, appeal to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal whose Chief Adjudicator, Caroline Shepherd, has taken a lead in using online procedures. In other words, much of the process is already online with some guidance already there.The best independent site on parking disputes in England and Wales is probably moneysavingexpert.com. Which, the Consumers Association, also has a useful site, These are linear, descriptive and lack any element of interactivity. But, they have the smell of authenticity. You feel that the writers have really dealt with cases of this type and know the issues that come up.
Well, very little has changed. Go to DoNotPay/parking on the internet and you get a choice of three cities and one country (the UK). Click on the UK and you get 12 options with different reasons. Choose, for example, ‘There was contradictory signage’. A bot asks for your ticket number. Make one up: the bot doesn’t know the right structure. You are asked for the offence name. Reply unauthorised parking. You are asked for the name of the street. Make one up. You are asked for the implication of two signs. Reply that ‘Parking is possible’. The bot asks how far apart they were: say 12 feet. Give a name – John Jones.
The resulting letter is pretty close to gobbledygook. It is addressed ‘To whom it may concern’. It gives no postcode for the alleged offence or the writer of the letter. The letter argues that there has been no offence; that ‘the court should exercise fairness’ and that the ‘issue of a ticket is an unlawful action inconsistent with precedent’. It does not venture which precedent you had in mind.
moneysavingexpert.com is still better. It deals in detail with the issue of private tickets masquerading as public ones – unmentioned by DoNotPay. It has a forum with contributions from people who have dealt with parking problems. It has a step by step guide to fighting parking tickets. It warns you that ‘If still at the scene, gather as much evidence as possible. If you’re reading this after, it’s still worth grabbing what you can, as this can be the key to winning.’ And suggests ‘take pics of where your car was, the meter and your ticket, plus anything else that might be relevant.’ It gives much more information eg ‘If it’s an ‘Excess Charge Notice’ or ‘Fixed Penalty Notice’ the rules are different’.
Which gives similar information and a draft letter which is much more professional than that of DoNotPay; ‘[Your address]
[Issuing authority address] [Reference: PCN number/ Date of issue]
Dear Sir/ Madam,
I am writing to formally challenge the above Penalty Charge Notice. On [date] my vehicle [registration number] was issued with a Penalty Charge Notice for the reason of [offence code and official reason stated on PCN].
In accordance with the Traffic Management Act 2004, my challenge is on the basis that the contravention did not occur [reasons why]. Please find enclosed evidence to this effect, in the form of [give details and why it backs up your case].
For this reason, I look forward to receiving notification that the Penalty Charge Notice has been cancelled within 28 days.
The Parking Adjudicator allows you to make an online appeal if the local authority turns you down – unmentioned on DoNotPay.
All this raises a bit of question for the future of DoNotPay and how it will use its additional money. If the quality of its other applications is the same as that relating to parking, then either there needs to be quite a lot of intellectual property theft from the other sites or a good deal more researched content. The unique nature of DoNotPay is the chatbot format but, in the end, rather satisfyingly perhaps, a chatbot proves to be only as good as its content. On the evidence of parking, this needs to be improved.