Dunedin parking outrage

The report in Wednesday's Otago Daily Times about the $65 ''breach notice'' for overstaying the limit at a car park at Forsyth Barr Stadium has unleashed widespread outrage.

Reports have flooded in about what is seen as the totally disproportionate amount and what appears to be the complete inflexibility of Wilson Parking when explanations are given.

To some, $65 is a crippling impost. For others the seeming injustice in itself rankles - the size of the sanction and/or that they were unaware they had to pay. Suddenly, those industrious Dunedin City parking wardens do not seem quite so bad after all.

The reason for parking restrictions and even for paid parking have a strong foundation.

Without restrictions, it would be impossible for most to find parks during business in town, near the hospital or around the university.

Those restrictions must then be enforced or they will be abused.

Enforcement keeps parking available and is essential at busy times.

But there are two matters on which Wilson Parking has rightly been castigated.

The first is the round-the-clock nature of some of the 20 parks around Dunedin it administers and the way many are ticketed when there is no pressure on parking.

While late at night there might acres of empty spaces, the enforcers still leave those nasty surprises under windscreen wipers.

There are times, too, when council wardens are guilty of ticketing cars when there are empty spaces everywhere.

But, at least, Sundays and evenings are free.

The second matter is the size of the penalty.

When parking is $1.50 an hour or $5 a day as it is at the stadium car park - and it is that modest level for day-to-day supply and demand reasons - $65 is a huge amount for overstaying by what might just be a few minutes.

In central Wellington or Auckland, where the initial fee is several dollars an hour, the sanction would be less unreasonable.

But a multiple of 43?

When the council's overstaying fee is only $12 (or $10 if paid promptly), the contrast is all the more stark.

Even if the figure was $25 or $30 motorists might be a little more understanding.

But it would seem the $65, rather than being simply a deterrent to encourage drivers to feed the pay-and-display machine, is a major revenue stream.

All the more reason to catch those half dozen cars in an otherwise empty park.

The issue of the legality of the ''breach notice'' has not been settled.

Wilson Parking has said the amount is clearly displayed at entry and pay-and-display points.

It could be parkers have, in effect, entered an agreed contract by parking.

It might, however, be more difficult for Wilson to collect the money than it is for a council parking fine where the courts are soon involved.

There remains, as well, the issue of whether ''damages'' for breach of contract may be any more than the company would have received if someone else had used the parking space.

The mayor, councillors and the council have reacted with concern, illustrating the responsiveness of democracy compared with the reaction of a private company running what are near monopolies.

Often, companies can run businesses cheaper than councils and in principle contracting out can be beneficial.

But a public oversight needs to be retained wherever effective competition is absent.

In the meantime, one way for the public to respond is to avoid Wilson parks (not always easy to do because there are so many) when they can.

There are usually plenty of parks around the streets near the stadium, for example, outside business hours.

The Dunedin City Council late last year began a review of its parking services, and the outrage has come at a good time for that review and a bad time for Wilson Parking.

There may be a place for the company which, given its experience around Australia and New Zealand, must know how to make maximum profits, but there is no place for $65 penalties for being a few minutes over time.

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