License plate confusion led to pricey ticket for local woman

PITTSBURGH — Can you tell the difference between the number 0 and the letter O on a Pennsylvania License plate? The confusion over the very similar looking characters led to some big problems for a local woman.

Robin Jones of Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood said she wanted MZ-JONEZ on her personalized plate but she was told that the letter O had already been taken. PennDOT, however, said the number 0 was available.

She never thought little number would cause such a big problem.

Jones parked on the North Side to go to an appointment. When she came out, her car had been booted by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. She had been parked in a no parking zone. A sticker on her car said she owed approximately $800 in outstanding parking tickets.

“I was in a state of shock,” said Jones, who had received a parking ticket in Oakland that she planned to fight.

Jones immediately called the parking authority and they owned up to the mistake. They said the other MZ-JONEZ plate with the letter O actually had all of the unpaid tickets but the parking enforcement officer mistakenly punched in the letter O instead of the number 0.


“The key is how you react and fix the situation afterwards but mistakes are going to happen, but it’s how you deal with them after the fact,” said Pittsburgh Parking Authority Executive Director Dave Onorato.

Onorato told Target 11 that the Parking Authority trains enforcement officers to be on the lookout for similar looking numbers and letters but they said it can be difficult. The authority is in the process of going to handheld license plate scanners but they said even those are not 100 percent accurate.

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“We try to train our officers when they enter it by hand after it comes up, either paid or unpaid, to look at the screen to see if it matches that,” Onorato said.

The Parking Authority immediately removed the boot and voided all of the tickets for both license plates.

“They had at least six and it totaled, like $832 because they even put the amount of money on the sticker that they put on your window. This other person doesn’t realize what a gift she was given, “ said Jones, who was pleased that they voided her tickets.

Target 11 did some investigating into license plates and we discovered that some states don’t allow certain letters and numbers because they look too similar. A PennDOT spokesperson said they don’t have any restrictions, but they reserve the right to deny plates that they consider inappropriate.

Target 11 checked the Pennsylvania personalized plate website and discovered that MZ-JONEZ with the letter O is no longer in use and it’s now available for other drivers.

Robin Jones worries that the same thing will happen again if the state doesn’t make changes such as banning certain letters or at least putting a line through the number 0.