Council spy car likened to Nazi secret police
From the first week the spy car hit the streets, concerns emerged of revenue gathering and unfair ticketing.
Now 18 months later, it could end up on the scrap heap after a flurry of complaints about unreasonable parking fines and overzealous operators.
When plans for the mobile camera car were first unveiled in July 2010, it was to target parents double-parking to drop children off at school and ensure areas such as loading zones and yellow lines were kept clear.
At the time, council parking manager Jon Visser said the car would usually be "on set routes to address known problems".
At a cost of $250,000 a year, the modified Toyota Yaris, which is driven by five Parkwise staff, has issued more than 17,000 tickets since it hit the road in August 2010, generating revenue of $900,000.
The council's parking enforcement services are contracted out to Tenix Solutions, which subcontracts them out to Parkwise.
But some drivers have disputed the camera car's purpose, saying an unfair complaints process is a symptom of money-grabbing.
Raffaele Abbate was nabbed by the spy car in November for being double parked in Harris St in the city centre. He said parking officials would not let him put the situation into context which indicated the council's real objective.
"It is not the intention to maintain order, it is the intention to make money."
Councillor Stephanie Cook said parking enforcement should not be contracted out privately, as it had become a cash cow.
"It does feel to me that there is a financial bent to this, because a private company doesn't have that public service ethos.
"No matter how we try and write it into the contract that they need to have a degree of flexibility and a degree of discretion about what they are doing, I just don't think it's there the way it would be if it was run from within council."
Council infrastructure director Stavros Michael said there was no quota for drivers to meet, and 15,000 fewer parking tickets were issued by Wellington parking wardens in the last financial year.
"If this was about money, we would see more tickets being issued. Instead we are issuing less of them."
However, Wellington Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon said the car seemed to be unfairly penalising considerate road users.
"I think a review of its usage in the CBD, particularly in the instances where someone is being dropped off, is well called for.
"If it cannot be operated in a manner where people won't be penalised for simply being dropped off, then it should probably be removed altogether."
Councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer said he had received numerous complaints about the spy car.
"This car is becoming a Gestapo spywagon and it was not its intention.
"I think we have come to the point where we need to temporarily stop the use of this car until the criteria for its use, the training of the operators and the mechanisms for dealing with complaints are properly addressed."
Four councillors have now called for it to be scrapped, and want a review. But Mr Michael said if the spy car was removed, the council would face the risks of reduced safety enforcement.
"If the councillors decide to get rid of it, then all we can do is follow their decisions. They will have to take the responsibility of that action.
"This is about safety, so you have to ask the question of which rules do the councillors want us to stop policing?"
Mr Michael said the car was under constant review, with processes being improved as issues came to light.
"In the case of yellow line parking, our drivers must now circle the block and take two separate photos to show the person is clearly parked on the lines, rather than turning into a proper park."
During the next six months the council's parking enforcement would undergo a thorough review, which included the way the camera car was used.
Parking enforcement was not popular and wardens would never be embraced by the public, Mr Michael said.
"If I have to choose between reduced safety enforcement and risk an accident, or public ill will, I would take the ill will every time."
WHAT THE COUNCILLORS SAY
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown: The council must be vigilant to ensure parking enforcement is fair. "Safety of other drivers and pedestrians is the most important issue, in the suburbs and the CBD. The dash cam car is a useful part of enforcement. We must be vigilant that the focus is on safety and enabling legitimate use of on-street parks. Some drivers believe that parking on double-yellow lines is OK for a few minutes but a crash can happen in only a moment."
Ngaire Best: "When the spy car concept was put forward I supported it because of the work it would do around schools. I would like to think when people do get ticketed their cases will be reviewed fairly. The car should be kept in place but we need to make sure the system is fair."
Iona Pannett: Wants to see the car retained. "Safety on the roads is of paramount importance but the council must be seen to be fair. People should not be penalised unfairly."
Jo Coughlan: "There are problems surrounding people being dropped off and picked up. It's a good time to review the vehicle's operation."
Justin Lester: "We need to have a look at whether the income generated from the car is really worth it. It's not a good look for the city. It's a step too far and there's not a lot of positive feedback for it."
Leonie Gill: "I think the people in the car are over-zealous. Some of the complaints about people getting ticketed for dropping people off in the city are just bizarre. We certainly need to review the whole operation."
John Morrison: Describes the spy car operation as nothing more than revenue collection. "It runs against the basic Kiwi mentality of people getting a fair go. This is clipboard, whistle blowing, white-coat bureaucratic stuff. This bureaucratic behaviour has brought the council into disrespect. The car has got to go."
Paul Eagle:"I am totally opposed to the continued operation of this car. There's a lot of negativity surrounding it. A lot of visitors to Wellington end up getting parking tickets. The whole parking situation in Wellington needs to be reviewed. The car should go."
Simon Marsh: "The car is unfair. It is creating major ill-will and angst among the public. New Zealanders don't like it when things are unfair. It's tough on taxi drivers and private motorists alike. We need to get rid of it."
Bryan Pepperell "There is enough bureaucracy in people's lives now. I don't think it is necessary. I am not happy to see it continue."
Andy Foster: There are some ways in which the spy car needs to be improved, but this is best done through discussion with the staff.
Ray Ahipene-Mercer: The council needs to reassess how the car is being used. "This car is becoming a gestapo spywagon and it was not its intention. I think we have come to the point where we need to temporarily stop the use of this car until the criteria for its use, the training of the operators and the mechanisms for complaints are properly addressed."
Ian McKinnon: The use of the car needs to be refined and improved. "It's making that distinction on those two counts of those being dropped off and those waiting on a park, against those who are absolutely abusing our parking system. If that distinction can't be made, it would be better for the car to be removed altogether."
Stephanie Cook: The car would be better run from within council. "I think we should bring it back into council because I think there is a financial incentive for a company to be running it ... the public service ethos of running something from within council tends not to have that imperative."
Helene Ritchie: Could not be contacted.
The Dominion Post