Council spy car run out of town

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 31/03/2012

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Wellington's spy car is being taken off the road, with the city council admitting it has had a "corrosive" impact on its reputation.

After 18 months patrolling Wellington streets, dozens of complaints and at least two court cases, Wellington City Council has announced it will permanently withdraw the car from service.

The announcement follows a two-month review of the car, with the council's infrastructure director, Stavros Michael, saying its "presence on the road had been corrosive for the council in terms of reputation".

The modified Toyota Yaris, with a camera mounted on the dashboard, cost $250,000 a year to run. It had issued more than 17,000 tickets, generating $900,000 in revenue.

But the car sparked public outrage, as people found themselves fined for being double parked if they were turning or pausing to let people out on double yellow lines.

However, the council continues to deny it was introduced to increase revenue.

Mr Michael said the car had done some good work, including helping target "dangerous `stop-and-drop' parking practices" at schools, and taxis that parked on bus stops and double parked in narrow streets, but in the end it had to go.

"Its benefits to road safety were being outweighed by the negative response it received from the community."

When the car was introduced, the council said one of its main functions was to focus on unsafe parking outside schools. However, a year later more than half the tickets it had issued were on four inner-city streets.

The Terrace had the most, with 2634 tickets. The most common infringement was parking on broken yellow lines.

News the car was being withdrawn was welcomed by Evelyn Williamson, who won a court case last year after being fined for double-parking. She successfully argued that the photographs were taken at intervals that did not capture her flashing indicator lights, showing she was waiting to turn.

"Oh yay, I'm stoked," she said after learning the car was being withdrawn yesterday.

She understood the reasons for the car, but said the council had let itself down by refusing to listen when people had a genuine explanation for their actions.

"If they can't control how it's being done with some sort of sensibility, then maybe that is what needs to happen."

Before the review, city councillors were split over whether the spy car should be withdrawn, but John Morrison was among those calling for it to go.

Getting rid of it was the only viable option, he said. "It's like putting your head in a noose to put that thing back on the road."

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The council had lost face because of the "sneaky, surreptitious" nature of the car.

"The ratepayers are our friends and our customers, not our enemy. The spy car treated them like the enemy."

The council could save face, but had to stop being so "anti car", he said. "Why don't we just put a big sign at the entrance to Wellington that you bring a car here and we'll nail you?"

The spy car will be out of service immediately, but any existing tickets will still need to be paid.

- The Dominion Post

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