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    Sean P. Murphy | The Fine Print

    SpotHero parking reservation is guaranteed — except when it’s not

    Phil Cronin used the SpotHero app to reserve a parking space three days in advance of a Red Sox playoff game, only to have the company blow off its "guarantee" and cancel the reservation three hours before the first pitch.
    Michael Swensen for the Boston Globe
    Phil Cronin used the SpotHero app to reserve a parking space three days in advance of a Red Sox playoff game, only to have the company blow off its "guarantee" and cancel the reservation three hours before the first pitch.

    As soon as the Red Sox playoffs schedule was announced on Oct. 2, Phil Cronin opened an app on his phone to reserve a parking spot for a game three days later. He found one, in a garage a block from Fenway Park, for just $10.

    It took only a minute for him to make the deal on SpotHero, one of several high-tech startups that let users book parking spots in advance at below-market rates. SpotHero and its rivals are competing fiercely for market share in what looks like the future of how we park in big cities.

    A longtime season-ticketholder who lives in Amesbury, Cronin looked forward to ushering his two teenage daughters into baseball heaven: Sox against the (expletive) New York Yankees in October.

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    “I was thrilled,” Cronin said of the wizardry of SpotHero and the deep discount for parking he had scored. “No parking hassles, great price.”

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    But only hours before the first pitch, SpotHero sent Cronin an e-mail marked “urgent.”

    “I, unfortunately, have some bad news,” a SpotHero representative wrote. “We will have to cancel . . . your reservation for tonight.”

    Wait a minute. Hadn’t SpotHero guaranteed the parking space Cronin had already paid for online with a credit card? That’s what it says on SpotHero’s website: “We guarantee you will have a spot to park at the rate you selected when you reserve through SpotHero!”

    How could SpotHero renege on Cronin’s sweet deal and leave him in the lurch on a night when almost 38,000 crazed fans would converge on an already crowded corner of the city?

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    I had numerous communications with SpotHero, a Chicago company whose popular mobile app is used in 50 cities in the United States and Canada.

    After a series of unproductive interactions in which I was furnished with inaccurate or incomplete information, I talked to the CEO, Mark Lawrence. He defended the company’s decision to stiff Cronin. And he said SpotHero would continue to use the word “guarantee” on its website. He basically could find no fault with the company.

    Really?

    So what happened? Seems to me someone at SpotHero got caught napping and then refused to own up to it.

    The SpotHero business model requires it to make deals with garage operators all over the city to market their excess capacity.

    On most nights in the Fenway area, the supply of parking exceeds demand. To sop up some of that capacity, LAZ Parking, one of the city’s largest parking lot operators, hires SpotHero to market its extra spaces at the garage on Boylston Street where Cronin booked his space.

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    Customers pay as little as $10 under ordinary conditions.

    But the agreement calls for an exception when the Sox are playing at home because LAZ knows it can get more than five times as much for its spaces from drive-up Sox fans, said Todd Gilbert, a LAZ general manager.

    It’s SpotHero’s responsibility to monitor the Sox schedule to know when the blackout is in effect, Gilbert said.

    Lawrence acknowledged an “oversight,” but he wouldn’t say it was SpotHero’s.

    In any case, SpotHero’s problem didn’t have to become Cronin’s. SpotHero could have furnished the promised parking spot to Cronin for $10 while paying LAZ $58 for it.

    That would have meant a $48 loss but the company would have lived up to its touted “guarantee.” It also would have won the undying loyalty of Cronin (and avoided my sticking my nose into its business practices).

    SpotHero crafted an e-mail to Cronin notable for its evasion of responsibility.

    “We were contacted by the operators of the garage today because the rates on your current passes were not updated to reflect the playoffs,” it said.

    What it should have said is: “SpotHero failed to update our data to reflect the playoffs.” Then it should have told Cronin it would honor its agreement with him anyway, even at a substantial loss.

    Instead, SpotHero refunded Cronin’s $10, gave him a voucher for $15 for later use on SpotHero as a courtesy, and told him he was on his own trying to find parking at that late hour.

    Cronin wound up finding a $40 parking spot about a mile from the ballpark. (He found it on SpotHero, thus demonstrating how essential these online parking apps are becoming). Cronin and his kids hoofed it from Commonwealth Avenue to Fenway and had a great evening as the Sox won, 5-4.

    Cronin later demanded that SpotHero do something more to compensate him. The company offered him another $15 voucher. Please: $30 for the stress and extra effort (and extra distance to the park)?

    Cronin wants another $25, which seems more than fair when you consider SpotHero broke its agreement.

    What SpotHero should have done in the first place is to have swallowed the $48 loss and given him his original parking spot.

    That would have made the company a hero in my book.

    Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.