Council's experiment costly

GRANT MILLER
Last updated 12:00 10/12/2012

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OPINION: It has been hailed as world-leading technology.

It has been blamed for shoppers shunning Palmerston North.

Some say the city's paid parking system is too complicated and it's embarrassing trying to explain to visitors how the machines work.

Others say people have to be pretty dim-witted not to work it out.

The city's parking system - complete with sensors that make it easier for parking wardens to catch motorists who leave their vehicles too long in parking spaces - has generated much ill-feeling.

Today, a group of businesspeople will present a petition with more than 1800 signatures to the Palmerston North City Council's finance and performance committee. That petition calls for a review.

With former deputy mayor John Hornblow leading the way, the message seems likely to be a well-presented one.

Of course, Mr Hornblow voted for the parking system when he was part of the city council. His involvement in the opposition now says much about the level of discontent that has bubbled away in the city.

New Plymouth, at least, appears to have learnt from Palmerston North's mistakes in implementing its "pay and walk away" system.

Palmerston North city councillors may argue they could not have foreseen the trouble now confronting them, but many of them were guilty of being uncritical when they discussed the trial in 2010 and voted for it to proceed.

I was at the meeting and was surprised by how excited the councillors and council staff were.

I have no recollection of councillors saying the technology needed to be managed carefully.

No-one seemed greatly worried that city shoppers might not take too kindly to the imposition of a new system.

I don't remember councillors uttering anything about a need for caution.

There has been an election since, but the new council has not exactly taken the bull by the horns either.

The case for the trial - a free one for the city council - was indeed a compelling one.

But the implementation has left a bit to be desired. This is principally the fault of the city council, not Frogparking, the Palmerston North company that came up with the technology.

Frogparking has a good case for arguing it has been let down by the city council - not just because of its lack of foresight, but because of its management of the situation.

Back in August 2010, when the trial got the go-ahead, environmental protection services head Wayne Jameson said that the council had not yet determined how it would approach enforcement.

Mayor Jono Naylor said the technology would make parking enforcement more fair.

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There are now more than just a few citizens lining up to say this is not quite how things have turned out.

It would be difficult to argue the approach to enforcement was thought through carefully. Proposed tweaks in that area have come remarkably late.

Instead of the system being seen as fair, it is more often seen as mean spirited. Again, that is the fault of the city council, not Frogparking.

The council was warned at the time that its scheme was "anti-ratepayer".

Yes, there is a higher level of compliance from motorists who are now more likely to feed the meter than run the risk of getting caught not paying.

But the cost to the city of this experiment has certainly been higher than the council imagined.

A free trial has turned into an experiment that has annoyed citizens and arguably cost businesses custom. The council would do well to think about what lessons it has learnt.

* Grant Miller is the Manawatu Standard"s head of content and a politics junkie.

- Manawatu Standard

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