Fort Collins’ Bad Business Decision

Retail blowout is one way to describe our planned afternoon in Fort Collins, Colorado. We drove into town for the sole purpose of shopping at local stores, eating at local restaurants, and touring most of the city’s many local breweries. We ended up doing none of that. The City of Fort Collins is the reason why.

After a short stroll around the downtown area we returned to find our car adorned with a freshly printed parking ticket. I looked at the $75 ticket, and then up at the “3 Hour Parking” sign directly in front of my bumper; back at the ticket and again at the sign.

A quick conversation with the fine people at Fort Collins’ Parking Services revealed we were ticketed for having an unregistered vehicle. The only problem, our car is registered. It turns out I had forgotten to affix the new registration sticker.

“No problem,” I explained. “I have my registration information right here.”

“That’s great,” the surprisingly cheerful clerk responded. “I can void that $75 ticket for a $25 administration fee.”

“Really? I have to pay $25 for the privilege of legally parking my legally registered vehicle in your town?”

“You’d be surprised how many unregistered out-of-town vehicles we get through here.”

“But my vehicle is registered,” I protested in futility.


They got me. And that’s fair. I recognize towns try to fleece transients like us to lighten the cost of government for locals. We see it all the time; exorbitant car rental fees that are only levied at airports, hotel taxes many times higher than local sales taxes. It’s a racket.

But we’re not exactly powerless.

The way we approach spending is to consider all of the tradeoffs. If we spend $25 on something, that necessarily means we have $25 less to spend on something else. Normally everything we buy competes with everything else. We buy only those things that are worth more to us than all of the other possible alternatives. Buying nothing at all typically ranks highly among those alternatives. So that is what we did.

We skipped a planned meal at Ras-Ka’s Ethiopian restaurant. Sorry guys, the menu looked great and we love your lion logo, but the city took our lunch money. Maybe next time.

Wilbur’s Total Beverage probably would have taken us deep. This huge supermarket of booze reminded us of The Wine Library in New Jersey where we used to stock up. We easily could have filled the Jeep with a case of wine and a couple cases of Fort Collins’ local brews. Alas, we left empty handed.

Tours and tastings at Fort Collins Brewery, Odell, and New Belgium were all originally on our to-do list.

We even waited until we crossed city limits to fill our gas tank.

None of this includes the dozen or so places we would have popped in to at random.

In all, we probably saved ourselves several hundred dollars. That’s several hundred dollars not lining the pockets of local businesses and not subject to state and local sales taxes.

Shaking down tourists over incredibly minor infractions does have its downside.

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21 Comments on “Fort Collins’ Bad Business Decision”

  1. customtripplanning November 18, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    My favorite “fleece the tourist” is the ridiculously high hotel tax in some places. For a 15 minute drive you can be in an adjacent town. LOL


    • Brian November 18, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

      It’s nice to figure out way around stuff like this, isn’t it. I try to avoid renting cars at the airport. You’re almost always better off getting a cab to a rental agency in the city.


  2. Shirley Forbes November 18, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    We are staying in Livingston LA and our campground for a week had $20. tax on it. That included a hotel tax. Excuse me, but I brought my room with me!


  3. Paul Dahl November 18, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    I “like” the towns out in the Northeast that charge you a bed tax when you stay in a campground, and you’re staying in your own bed.

    Or Branson, MO that charges an additional “Entertainment Tax” above the sales tax for show tickets.

    I think you did the right thing and walked with what was left of your money in your wallet.


    • Brian November 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      Thanks. We had fun going around to the places where we weren’t going to spend money.


  4. hobopals November 18, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Great post. Why not send it, as a letter, to the Ft. Collins Chamber of Commerce and the Ft. Collins newspaper?


  5. babyboomersmusings November 18, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    I think a lot of towns use this tactic. We got towed in Vancouver, B.C. My husband parked the car after letting me off at the airport to see my mom and sister off. It was early morning and he headed off to a meeting. I went around spending as a tourist does.

    We were to meet at Starbucks. He called me there and said he was late because he was trying to find the car!

    After calling all around we found out that after 3pm there is no parking downtown.

    Needless to say there was a huge lineup of mostly out of town visitor’s all taking about how the city had a sweet money grab going. Cost was very high for a tow plus fine, it took a big chunk of our time and we skipped dinner out and headed home.


    • Brian November 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      I think that is the worst part. It’s not just the cost, but the time and the impact it has on your attidude. It’s tough to have fun when something like this happens. It can spoil an entire trip.


  6. john November 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    you did the right thing and I would forward an email with a link to this post to the local chamber of commerce and the local newspaper just to see what happens…


  7. earthriderjudyberman November 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Another cautionary note: Check out the gas prices at stations near the airport. In the Orlando area, there were at least 2 gas stations that had ridiculously high gas prices compared to other stations not too far from those that were ripping off motorists. The offending stations were supposedly fined, but they continued gouging customers long after.


  8. Jim N Jan November 25, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Do all out of town/out of state visitors to Ft Collins have to register their vehicles in order to safely drive and park in that city? If so, it will be a very very cold day before we ever visit.


    • Brian November 26, 2011 at 10:42 am #

      You don’t need to specifically register with Fort Collins, but your car does need to be registered in your home state. I think all 50 states require it.


  9. Oscar Larson November 27, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    My first out-of-towner ticket was the day I drove a rental car to NYC for an internship interview. Not knowing how the “alternate side of the street” parking worked, I found a spot in a block fully parked up. I went to the corner phone booth (this was 25 years ago) to call to confirm my interview. Upon returning, NYC’s finest had spotted my rental car and written a ticket. After a clarification of how this parking system worked, I asked the police officer if they were going to ticket the other 20 cars (NYC registered) also. They drove off.

    I did get my comeupance a few years later, as a resident. I had my car stolen, of course the one time I found parking next to my building. I had dutifully moved it every other day because of this alternative side of the street parking, often walking a mile back to my apartment in Queens. I filed all of the correct police reports, etc. and expected that I would have more time each evening as I no longer and the ritual of moving the car, which I rarely used then. More than a year later, I received a ticket for not moving my car for the past 6 months. It, of course, had been stripped. NYC’s finest wanted me to move it, and by the way, my registration had expired. I sent a copy of the police report, highlighting the date at which I had reported this, and suggested that they could use the scrap metal as they wished.


    • Brian November 27, 2011 at 10:57 am #

      Wow, seems like you’ve been through the wringer.


  10. Kyle Anderson May 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Here’s a idea remember to put your registration sticker on. Problem solved.


    • Brian May 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      But then we’d have missed this opportunity to benefit from such insightful comments.


  11. White Postcards September 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    I hope Fort Collins city council (or equivalent decision makers) gets to read this!



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