Mark Stockdale: Reining in carpark cowboys

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Wheel clamping is an increasingly common method of enforcement. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Wheel clamping is an increasingly common method of enforcement. Photo / Kenny Rodger

AA is pushing for national rules for all public parking areas, writes Mark Stockdale, policy analyst at the Automobile Association.

At this very moment thousands of vehicles throughout New Zealand will be pulling into a carpark. In them will be people going to work, shopping, delivering goods, visiting family, picking up their kids, visiting the doctor, going to a restaurant, plus a hundred and one other things that add up to our modern life.

And like a key without a lock, a car without somewhere to stop would be not much more than a beanbag on wheels - enjoyable to sit in but with very little practical benefit to your life.

Economically and socially, carparks are an integral part of our communities - yet drivers using them seem to be increasingly viewed as either cash cows to be fleeced or undesirable pests to be eliminated.

The triumph of Auckland motorist Glen Vickery over an unfair wheel clamping fine shone a light on the issue but his case, followed by those of other members of the public who came forward with horror stories, are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Automobile Association (AA) has heard of people being fined $200 for overstaying their time limit by a few minutes or being hit with a similar-sized towing fee when their vehicle has been taken only a few kilometres away.

Which is why the AA wants a set of national rules for all public carparks.

At present regulations controlling council-owned carparks ensure there are adequate signs explaining the rules and putting a limit on charges and penalties, yet these do not apply to privately owned public carparks.

This is a ridiculous double standard that needs to be corrected. When a driver pulls into a carpark he or she is effectively entering into a contract, and, regardless of who owns the carpark, drivers surely deserve to have the terms and conditions clearly explained and for the consequences of breaking the rules to be fair and reasonable.

These penalties are completely out of proportion to the wrong-doing and harsher than the fine for driving that risks people's safety - such as $150 for running a red light.

If you were in a carpark that charged $6 per hour and overstayed by 15 minutes, a fine of $200 is neither fair nor reasonable, equating to a 3200 per cent increase from the hourly rate.

Then, if motorists want to challenge a fine, the company which issued it acts as judge, jury and executioner. Little wonder that the evidence is ignored and most fines are upheld.

The responsibility for ruling on the validity of a fine needs to be taken away from those with a financial interest in the outcome, without motorists needing to go to the trouble and expense of challenging it in court.

Worse, wheel clamping is an increasingly common method of enforcement, cheaper and easier than towing a car. Yet while there are regulations on towing there are no regulations on clamping, making it doubly hard for motorists to challenge.

Consumer Affairs Minister Simon Bridges has announced work is under way on developing a voluntary code of conduct for clampers , but this will not address the real issue that a council-owned carpark on one side of the street has to behave to set standards while a privately owned carpark across the street is a law unto itself.

A code of conduct is all well and good, but clearly private carpark and clamping operators have failed to self-regulate in the past, resulting in thousands of motorists being extorted and treated like criminals instead of the customers they are.

The AA says it's time to bring the wild west of the carparking sector into line by imposing the same regulations council carparks have long had to comply with.

- NZ Herald

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