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Drive reader Carol Jorgenson saw “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis in May and gave the comedic murder mystery rave reviews.

But Jorgenson gave two thumbs down for her frustrating experience in the city-owned parking ramp at 11th and Harmon after she and her parents could not get out after the automated pay station malfunctioned about 10:30 p.m., and no attendant was at the ramp to help.

“Our evening was ruined by this,” the Minneapolis resident said. “It is no fun being alone in a parking ramp with no way to get your car out because the machine had failed and the city is too cheap to hire someone to staff the ramp.”

All 15 city-owned and operated ramps are fully automated. It is supposed to work like this: Drivers take a ticket when they enter the ramp. When they leave, drivers insert the ticket into a pay station in the ramp lobby, then use cash or a credit card to pay. The pay station returns the ticket, which the driver scans at the exit to lift the gate and drive out.

In Jorgenson’s case, the pay station swallowed her parking ticket and her $5, and refused to give it back. The screen read “Transaction Canceled.”

She pressed a blue intercom button on the pay station to get help, but nobody answered, she said. Jorgenson pushed a red button on the wall for assistance. A voice that “sounded like he was on the other side of the world” directed her to the exit where a phone number to call for help was posted.

City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie confirmed that the number listed near the gate arm (612-343-7275) is answered during business hours, and that an after-hours number is printed on the back of one’s ticket.

But the machine had Jorgenson’s ticket with the after-hours phone number.

She found a red button on a wall near the ramp exit. She pushed it, and somebody in the city’s security control center answered. With all the noise and poor sound, Jorgenson said she could not hear what the person was saying. As traffic piled up behind her, somebody in the call center apparently realized her plight and raised the gate.

“There should have been someone, somewhere, in the vicinity of the exits and the pay stations who we could have gone to and spoken to and who could have helped us,” she said. “If you are going to have a fully automated parking ramp, you need a zero percent failure of your equipment.”

McKenzie said the phone number for the security control center is also posted at exits. That line is answered 24 hours a day.

The city apologized to Jorgenson and said somebody should have been sent to offer in-person assistance. McKenzie said the city will use the experience to improve processes and procedures.

McKenzie said Jorgenson’s case is a rarity, and that most ramp users have praised the system as it evolves to accept chip and contactless credit cards and emerging technologies such as Apple Pay.

The intercom system dates to 2001, and parts of the system have been upgraded over the years. The city is replacing the intercom system in all 15 ramps, and that is expected to be completed this year, McKenzie said. In another upgrade, Minneapolis plans to roll out a reservation system allowing customers to reserve parking spaces and prepay.

As for Jorgenson’s case, McKenzie said: “This is not the sort of experience we want anybody to have in our ramp.”

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.