Free ride - for some

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 13:48 01/12/2012

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Business owners and community groups are outraged dozens of Palmerston North city leaders do not have to feed parking meters.

There are 67 exemptions.

Mayor Jono Naylor, 15 councillors, and chief executive Paddy Clifford are all entitled to two each - one for each private vehicle they are likely to drive. Seven senior council staff have exemptions, and former mayors are entitled to two each. Our two MPs are entitled to them, as are mayors and chief executives of neighbouring councils and Horizons Regional Council.

Some council-controlled organisations, tertiary organisations, Chamber of Commerce, Defence Force and MidCentral District Health Board are issued one or two each, and other visitors to the council also qualify.

The exemptions are on top of those available to council staff using branded council vehicles on council business.

Disabled Persons Assembly chairwoman Gill Absolon said the extent of exemptions offered to people who could well afford to pay was "absolutely appalling".

"These people are getting exemptions when other people who are doing the real work at the hard edge of the community, often volunteers or low paid, don't get any support at all." She said councillors did not have to put up with the frustrations and costs other motorists faced at the parking meter and that helped explain why they had been slow to respond to public pressure for a better deal.

Broadway retailer Ralph Bare said the exemptions were disgraceful.

"They have no comprehension of the damage they have caused." He is one of several business owners collecting signatures for a petition demanding improvements to a regime organisers say is driving people away from the central city.

Fellow petitioner, Spectra owner Gabrielle Bundy-Cooke, had already challenged Mr Naylor about the exemptions. "He asked me if I could imagine how it would be in meetings if people had to dash out to feed the meters. "Well, that's exactly what the rest of us have to do."

Mr Naylor has defended the exemptions.

He said the list had been pared down from more than 100 several years ago. "I can see how some people might think it is not a good look, but it has been in place for a long time.

The exemption for former mayors was, "a nice thing to do".

He did not accept that not experiencing the frustrations faced by paying motorists had made councillors slow to respond to mounting anger about the parking regime and enforcement.

Mr Naylor said while he and councillors received two free passes, the scheme was not meant to be a perk for the partners of the mayor and councillors. It recognised that families often had two cars, and the councillor could drive either, depending who had the children with them and which vehicle was parked behind the other in the driveway.

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Each exemption was tied to a particular vehicle registration number, so could not be passed around friends and family.

He accepted a spouse driving a car with an exemption could also get free parking, "but that's not the rationale behind it".

Cr Duncan McCann, however, has decided free parking is an embarrassment, and has cut up his card.

He had two experiences without it recently. One ended in a $40 fine when a rogue screen display appeared at the meter and he could not get it to take his money, and another morning of multiple stops cost $8 in small change.

"It is a necessary part of what we do as councillors, to get around meeting people, however, in the scheme of things at the moment, I'm handing mine back until we have made some satisfactory progress."

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

■ A deputation of businesspeople, led by former deputy mayor John Hornblow, takes a deputation and a petition with hundreds of signatures to the council's finance and performance committee on December 10.

■ A working group of mayor, three councillors and council staff will meet as soon as possible to work through a list of parking issues. The possibility of reducing some charges and extending some time restrictions in low demand areas is near the top of the priority list, but changes before Christmas are unlikely.

- Manawatu Standard

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