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Cashless payments put some consumers in a pinch

Can businesses refuse cash?
Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-15 07:04:58-04

BALTIMORE — Cashless payments have become more popular during the pandemic, but it’s put consumers in a pinch. For one woman, cash was her only way out of a situation, and she wanted to know if businesses can refuse the payment method.

Late one night, Laura Carter was ready to head home, but when she tried leaving the gated parking lot near Pier V in downtown Baltimore, she hit a snag.

“As I was driving out, I realized I didn’t have a credit card. I only had cash but there was nothing I could do. So, I pressed the button, there was a little emergency button and I pressed that and I pressed it again and again and again and again and no one ever answered,” said Carter.

Carter had left her cards in her other bag, and now was out of options.

“So I was pretty much stuck in the lot for 45 minutes until I begged someone. I said, 'Could I please just give you this money? Keep the change, please just let me get out of this parking lot,'” said Carter.

She finally made her exit. Carter later called the lot vendor, Towne Park, to make sure what happened to her doesn't happen to others.

A manager reassured her it would be taken care of.

“And literally, two nights later, I was leaving, I did have my credit card, but as I was leaving, I pushed the button. I pushed it again and same thing happened,” said Carter.

During the pandemic, a number of businesses have moved away from cash over concerns of hand hygiene and spreading germs, but in a situation like this, Carter questions whether it's legal.

According to the Federal Reserve, it is:

“There is no federal statute mandating that a private business, a person, or an organization must accept currency or coins as payment for goods or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether to accept cash unless there is a state law that says otherwise.”

Several states and cities prohibit this, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, New York City, and San Francisco, however, Maryland and Baltimore are not among them.

And looking through the City’s code, it doesn’t appear there’s any mandate for commercial parking facilities to have someone on standby to let drivers out.

“I really think that there should be an alternative or at least a person that is able to push a button to let you out, and God forbid, there were an accident or an emergency, or something like that, it’s again very scary,” said Carter. “You know, why have a button there if no one’s going to answer it?”

A Towne Park spokesperson said they are aware of the technical difficulty at the 711 Eastern Avenue lot.

“We spoke with the woman following the incident and apologized for the inconvenience and offered to refund her parking payment. The emergency call button malfunctioned and the issue has been rectified and is now operational. The lot is a credit card payment only lot and if a situation occurs where a parker does not have a credit card when leaving, we manually open the gate and allow them out with no charge for that visit,” she wrote in an email to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.

Federal legislators are also exploring this issue. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a bill that would punish retailers for refusing cash payments, but it’s still early in the process.