We are short-changed over parking

At the end of January, I got a parking ticket. It was a fair cop - I was parked on a loading zone in New St on Saturday morning.

I suspect, like many Nelsonians, I'd become used to the seemingly casual and intermittent attentions of the city council's parking wardens and had often successfully gambled on their inattention.

Over the years, I've received a few tickets but I paid up willingly because I figured that if I totted up the free parking I'd had against the total in fines I would come out about even with the NCC.

This latest ticket, though, came from the new regime: a veritable phalanx of keen-eyed parking wardens haunting the streets in search of serial parking cheats like me.

Standing outside Warehouse Stationery, loaded up with file boxes, felt pens and manila folders, I think I witnessed the training of one of these energetic soldiers of chalk and chattering ticket dispenser.

Two people spent some time pacing around my car, inspecting tyres, number plate, warrant and registration as well as peering in the windows, no doubt passing judgment on the untidy state of the back seat, and one was clearly instructing the other on how to go about the business of slapping a $40 fine on a miscreant vehicle.

Loaded arms aching, I approached my car. The three of us had the sort of conversation you have with this species of functionary whose sense of humour, if it ever existed, is excised the moment they don their utilitarian black shoes, and I drove away, ticket in hand.

During February the news emerged that the NCC contracted parking operators, Environmental Inspections Ltd, had revenue flowing in, up 26 per cent since the contract was let (Nelson Mail, February 20). The contract includes the minimum issuing of 18,500 tickets a year and the hard-working folks of Environmental Inspections were already exceeding targets, having issued 7511 tickets in their first four months of operation.

Business and retailers in Nelson City are twitchy about Environmental Inspection's enthusiastic issuing of parking tickets. They think that their customers and clients are bypassing Nelson for Richmond. But this is only a likely scenario for Stoke residents for whom it costs about the same amount to drive to the city as it does to Richmond.

Most Nelson city and Atawhai residents can do the simple maths on time plus fuel to Richmond versus paying for parking in Nelson. And, let's face it, Richmond's retail centre, despite the best efforts of the Tasman District Council, is a charmless strip of ribbon development with a cookie-cutter mall tacked on the side. Functional? Yes. Attractive? No.

Nelson City's parking fees are cheap as chips too. Try parking in Wellington or Auckland where you'll start at $4 an hour. Visitors from Wellington last weekend laughed their socks off when I described the fuss some locals were making about parking fees and increased attention from parking wardens. They made the valid point that if parkers don't pay, someone else will have to, and that could well be city businesses through their rates.

What really puzzles me about the current parking operation is how the NCC can claim to have saved $40,000 by contracting it out to Environmental Inspections (Nelson Mail, October 22 2013).

If the council have made these "savings", it's only by virtue of them paying the contractors $40,000 less than it cost the council to run parking operations. The NCC's efficiency is called into question here. Why can't the council run a well organised, revenue-generating parking operation?

The NCC's ability to take advantage of economies of scale should help them pare down costs too. Environmental Inspections presumably has to provide infrastructure to support its contracted parking wardens, paid out of its contract price.

I assume Environmental Inspections are making an income from the parking contract so, from my point of view, ratepayers are missing out on significant cash that should be going into the council's coffers rather than the contractor's.

The change in parking operators from council to private contractors came about through last year's review of NCC functioning, a review that resulted in yet another structural change in the council's management systems.

I've become a little cynical about this kind of institutional change. It's always easier to shift the chairs around on the Titanic's deck, if you'll forgive the dramatic analogy, than it is to fix the big gaping hole in its side.

Easier or not, as a ratepayer, I'd like to see some attention paid to the hole in NCC functioning: why is morale low and efficiency apparently poor? And let's have some solutions that work rather than management reshuffles, multiple redundancies, and the contracting out of services the council could itself provide to the advantage of ratepayers.

I don't object to paying for parking in Nelson City. I'll be more conscientious about paying in the future and when time allows, I'll park outside the pay-to-park zone and enjoy the walk through our beautiful city, adding the bonus of exercise to my day.

However, I think the fate of NCC's parking operations, as it has played out since three council parking wardens resigned suddenly and without explanation in the middle of 2013, may be symptomatic of bigger problems in council functioning.

As a ratepayer, I'd like to see some progress on morale and efficiency, because if council gets the big things right, all aspects of their operations will undoubtedly improve.