Parking saga: The other side
It's not the parking sensors.
It's what the Palmerston North City Council is choosing to do with them that's the problem.
Frogparking chief executive Don Sandbrook is tired of getting a hammering in the media and from disgruntled motorists blaming the sensor technology for their parking fines.
The system collects "buckets full of information" that could be used more constructively to make parking in the city easier, he said.
But he is frustrated that all the council does with the information is use it to enforce its parking charges and time limits.
He said the council has not done a good job of informing the public how to use the meters, which are owned and controlled by the council, and about the parking rules.
"From the outset, PNCC agreed to take care of all communications around the system."
The level of confusion showed it had not done that well, he said.
City council chief executive Paddy Clifford said the criticism was surprising and wrong.
"I refute that quite clearly, because we worked with them and implemented a whole programme of communication with the public."
That included radio and newspaper advertising, pamphlets and fliers, and help from "pixies" when the system went live, and from parking wardens themselves.
But Mr Sandbrook said a lot of the complaints about the parking system were based on misconceptions people had about the rules, which demonstrated that the messages had not got through.
Before the sensors were activated, only about 1.75 per cent of parking offences were ever ticketed, and people assumed that practices they got away with were legitimate.
One of those practices was to feed the meter several times during the day, disregarding P60 or P120 time restrictions.
It was never legal. It was hard for wardens to pick up, but easy for sensors.
Mr Sandbrook said about 4-5 per cent of offences were ticketed now, and although some people were just grumpy about being caught, others were genuinely bewildered and thought the rules had been changed.
Mr Sandbrook's criticisms have been taken on the chin by Cr Duncan McCann, who has prepared some proposals on making parking better. to be discussed at a councillor workshop on Monday.
"Fundamentally, a lot of the problems are around the way the regime is enforced, which has nothing to do with Frogparking," said Cr McCann.
"A lot of public anger has been directed at Frogparking, instead of at the council. We have to take responsibility for the way we are choosing to enforce, and for how we communicate," Cr McCann said.
He said the combination of old enforcement attitudes and new technology had led to the popular public view that the system was all about revenue-gathering.
It was unfortunate for the city that many of the people caught out by the parking system were visitors from out of town.
Mr Sandbrook said Frogparking had been unreasonably blamed for driving parkers out of the central city, when that was more a function of the economic downturn.
He suggested the council could help even up the balance by matching The Plaza's first-hour-free parking regime in other parts of the city.
One of Mr Sandbrook's suggestions for using the sensor data constructively was to identify areas that were often empty, and either lower the fees there, or extend the time limit, or both.
"We can use the information to make positive changes.
"And it's better for the council to have spaces full and being paid for, than empty and earning nothing.
"It would also help by making town look busier."
An explanation: The $40 fine for failing to activate the meter is excessive. That is set in law and the fine is similar in other centres. The meter takes money for extra time, but you can still get a ticket for staying over the time restriction, even if you have paid for it. That has not changed. Time limits are too short. Council can choose to change that.You can't see how much time you have left on the meter. That hasn't changed. But you can get a receipt to take with you. If you top up, you lose the remaining paid time. That's been the case since manually operated individual meters were phased out. And if you don't use all your paid time, it's lost. Space numbers are random and hard to read. Random numbering was a deliberate council choice. The format could be changed. You can't pay for your parking from a meter more than 80m away. That could be changed at council's instruction. The meter is too hard to use. The council bought them as an improvement on the earlier model, but they do look like those used in other cities in different ways, which is confusing to people from out of town. You can't carry your paid time from one park to another. That has not changed.