Parking fines plummet

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 08:00 09/02/2013

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An explosion in the number of parking tickets issued in Palmerston North in July and August sparked an escalation in public complaints and a city council backdown that resulted in infringement figures tumbling in December.

City council figures show the average 4000 tickets a month more than doubled to 9106 in August, then plummeted to a two-year record low of 2661 in December.

The figures were released to the Manawatu Standard after an Official Information Act request.

The midyear peak followed beefing up the parking warden team, "to improve safety and compliance levels", said acting head of parking services Michelle Wolfsbauer.

In the first six months of last year, the council employed the equivalent of 6.28 parking wardens. In July, four extras joined the team. One left in October, and another in December. The current workforce is the equivalent of 8.28.

The number of tickets issued remained high until November.

Ms Wolfsbauer attributed the drop in December to the council's instruction to grant people an extra five minutes' grace, both after parking and before feeding the meter, and between paid time running out and leaving the car park.

The change effectively gives people 10 minutes' free parking at each end of their stay, or the chance to do a quick stop free.

The employment of parking pixies in December had helped motorists, but was not the main reason for the drop in ticketing, she said.

Former deputy mayor John Hornblow, who led a deputation to the council in December protesting the way parking rules were enforced, did not accept the council's explanation.

"It was about people stopping using the parking, because they had alternatives, and because they had had enough."

City councillor Duncan McCann, who gave up his meter exemption in a show of solidarity with the public, said the extension of the extra time allowed had made a difference.

"It's compassionate and it's sensible. The council needs some revenue from the meters, but we don't want to be oppressive."

The meters bring in more than $1.8 million a year, which increased about $25,000 between 2011 and last year.

Meantime, revenue from fines paid to the council or collected by the courts has gone up nearly $250,000 from one year to the next, to more than $2.1m.

Mr Hornblow said it was disturbing that the council was referring more than 2000 people a month, at the peak, to court.

Many of those people had made a genuine effort to pay for their parking, but had not used the system correctly, he said.

It was the $40 fine for the "honest" mistake of feeding the wrong bay number that annoyed people the most.

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Those infringements had increased along with the peak in general tickets, and so had the numbers of people disputing their tickets, he said.

However, the number of tickets waived did not rise.

Ms Wolfsbauer said the sensor parking technology gave the council accurate data about the presence of vehicles and payment at the meter that could counter many people's excuses.

There are 2008 "frog" sensored car parks in the city, including 461 that are used to monitor compliance with time restrictions only. The rest are on metered spaces. The technology was rolled out in 2011.

Broadway retailer Ralph Bare and George St hairdresser Gabrielle Bundy-Cooke agreed the $40 fine for working the system wrongly was a considerable irritation for people. And Ms Bundy-Cooke said the two-hour parking limit did not give people long enough for their appointments and shopping.

Ms Wolfsbauer said the council issued tickets to only 5 per cent of motorists who exceeded paid parking time or time restrictions.

After Mr Hornblow's deputation, the council set up a parking working group that will meet for the second time next week.

- Manawatu Standard

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