Solo mums stung in Kapiti Council car parking confusion: 'That's my grocery budget gone'
A council is accused of flexing its parking powers over single mums on benefits after several solo parents were ticketed while training to get jobs.
Lexi Spiers has spoken out after she became one of four single mums training at the Kapiti Community Centre in Paraparaumu, north of Wellington, who were fined in one hit.
She has two club feet that make it difficult for her to walk further than the immediate parking area.
Kapiti Coast District Council says at least one of the four women should have noticed they were in the wrong, and not all single mums are in financial hardship. The parks were clearly sign-posted and the spaces were permit-only since 2013, it says.
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Spiers' mistake, on her second day of the Building Futures course, hoping to improve her chances of finding work, would cost most of her weekly food budget for her and son, Cooper, 3.
"That is my food shopping. I maybe have $60 a week for food shopping," Spiers said.
She said the students' cars were parked for about half an hour, before they came out and found the $40 tickets.
Two weeks after the tickets were issued, the council turned down their applications to have the fines cancelled given the women's benefit status.
Spiers said signs on the business-only parks were too similar to other standard 240-minute signs, and in a difficult position to spot.
Spiers said she was disabled - born with two club feet, turned in sharply towards each other.
Despite four operations she has problems with pain and injuries when walking longer distance. She dislocated her knee trying to walk to a nearby supermarket, she said.
She was working to get accreditation to use the disabled spaces, but did not yet qualify, she said.
Their tutor, Ann Marie Pike, said she did not realise the specific parking bay was for business staff only. She told students they could park there. Pike said despite being issued a permit herself, she was also ticketed.
She said the single mums on the course made huge progress.
"To see from when they begin to when they end ... to have parking tickets be a part of that, or worrying about moving their cars while learning ... it's something we could do without."
Regulatory services group manager Kevin Currie said the spaces were permit-only since 2013.
The two signs at the parking bay met national standards, he said, and as of May showed no sign of damage or obstruction that would affect readability.
Currie said an independent adjudicator declined the four applications because the women parked "despite clear and lawful signage in place".
"The adjudicator found it odd that four individual people parked in that area on the same day and time, and going to the same course, and not one of them noticed the restriction or queried about parking for the course with the provider."
The applicants did not give any evidence of financial hardship, Currie said. "Being a single parent does not necessarily indicate this, for example they might have significant family support."
Claims of serious financial hardship needed "information from a bone fide budgetary advisory service, dated before the notice was issued".
Mayor K Gurunathan said he had heard other complaints about the signs and would "look into this personally".
The council might look at whether it continued contracting out parking enforcement, as part of a potential review, or take it inhouse, Gurunathan said.
"When you outsource it, the interface with the public is quite different."
Single mothers weren't necessarily poor - the ticket wouldn't be waived for "the CEO of a multimillion-dollar company" who happened to be a single mum, he said.