Tough line on meter errors

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 11/02/2013

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Palmerston North's parking sensor technology has made it easier to catch meter cheats, and harder for people who make a mistake to have their tickets cancelled.

During 2011 almost 90 per cent of people who disputed their ticket were let off.

But last year, 57 per cent of those who applied to have their tickets cancelled were told to pay up.

The numbers of tickets issued, disputed and waived were released to the Manawatu Standard by the city council in response to a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act request.

Palmerston North City Council acting head of parking Michelle Wolfsbauer said the sensor technology enabled the council to capture information every time someone parked and failed to pay, or overstayed.

The same information provided clear evidence for upholding tickets that people disputed, she said.

The figures capture the introduction of a new type of infringement, for failing to activate the meter correctly. It catches not only people who park and walk away without attempting to pay, but also people who key in the wrong bay number before paying, and those who put money in, but neglect to push the OK or "print receipt" button.

It carries a $40 fine, compared with the $12 fine for people who overstay their time.

Parking system critic and Broadway retailer Ralph Bare said the $40 fine was the major complaint people had about the system, seeing it as excessive, especially when the meters had taken people's money.

Former deputy mayor John Hornblow said about one in three people who got tickets had actually attempted to pay, but had made a mistake.

"These people were not breaking the law. They were not being bad people. And now we see the number of tickets being waived does not match the jump in the number of tickets issued."

The city council has refused to show the Manawatu Standard the legal advice it has received that the $40 fine complies with the provisions of its bylaw, and a request has been made to the Office of the Ombudsmen to review that decision.

The first tickets for failing to activate the meter correctly were issued in August last year, when 702 people got them.

The numbers continued at between 1055 and 2159 a month until the council amped up its parking warden team in July, when 3398 tickets were issued for the infringement. The offence made up 25,482 or 39 per cent of all 64,489 tickets issued in 2012.

The council declined to tell the Manawatu Standard, unless an estimated $3040 is paid to extract the information, how many people applied to have their tickets waived for that particular infringement.

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But the figures show the number of complaints about tickets generally increased from 361 in March last year, the first month they were captured electronically, to a high of 690 in September 2011.

When the number of overall tickets issued peaked at 9109 in August 2012, the number of complaints also increased, to a high of 900, showing about one in 10 people who got tickets challenged them.What has not increased is the number of applications for waivers being granted.

The figures do not correlate directly, as complaints against tickets issued one month might not be lodged immediately, and the decisions on waivers could follow the next month, or the month after.

But in August 2011 when 508 tickets were waived, there were 3670 tickets issued, and 502 complaints.

In the same month a year later, 544 tickets were waived, when 9109 were issued, and there were 900 applications for a waiver.

In March to December 2011 a total of 4593 applications for waiver were made and 4086 were granted in the same period. Even given the lag, most people who asked to be let off, got off - about 89 per cent of them.

In 2012 the figures for March to December were 6205 applications for waiver, but the number of tickets cancelled was 3533.

More people complained, but only 43 per cent were let off.

Of the unpaid fines referred to court last year, 5938, or 40 per cent of the total, were for failing to activate the meter correctly.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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