$200 towing fee from wharf shock for cyclist

By Mathew Dearnaley

Cyclists face $200 "towing" fees - the same as errant car owners - if they hitch their machines to a waterfront ramp used by Auckland ferry passengers.

Three bicycles and a motor-scooter were removed from the terminal for Waiheke Island sailings on Tuesday after the Auckland Regional Transport Authority and ferry operator Fullers called a towing company to enforce new no-parking signs.

Auckland Towing director Antony Ashford said his company intended imposing the standard $200 fee it charged for towing cars or any other vehicle as it was just as time-consuming to remove a bicycle to its Grey Lynn yard.

Fullers and the transport authority insist regular ferry passengers were given fair warning of the clampdown, but ecologist Jonathan Boow said he had no inkling of it when cycling to the waterfront for a monthly work trip to Waiheke.

Mr Boow said he noticed a no-parking sign only after returning from the island late on Thursday and finding his bicycle missing from where he had chained it to a railing on the other side of a column obscuring the sign, out of the way of other passengers.

He said he would have used another temporary parking area designated for cyclists and scooter owners had he known about it, even though it was exposed to the elements on an open part of the ferry wharf.

"I'm not that stupid to risk a $200 fine to save walking 20 metres," he said.

"The ferry was about to leave and I just cycled straight down there."

It is understood the scooter and two other bikes were parked much closer to one of the signs.

Told that the transport authority had safety concerns about congestion around the ferry ramp, Mr Boow said he accepted its right to manage the wharf as it saw fit, but believed there was need for greater leniency when introducing such a fundamental change.

"A $200 fine plus the cost of a replacement lock is over the top for a bike - that is more than the value of my bike, so it is not worth picking it up from the towing company."

But after facing the prospect of having to walk to work each day, Mr Boow heard late yesterday that the transport authority intended paying his "towing" fee on the basis there was justification for installing another sign.

Although the Herald counted only three signs, measuring about 600mm by 400mm, authority spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said she had been told people would have to pass four signs "before attempting to place their bikes in the area which has been identified as a health and safety hazard".

"However, we agree that one additional sign - making five signs in total - would be helpful, just in case."

Ms Hunter said the new sign would go up today, but the authority had no influence over the towing company's fees.

While acknowledging one of her organisation's main aims was to encourage more people to walk and cycle, she said health and safety was paramount.

Authority wharves manager John Bulkeley said the area around the ferry ramp became highly congested at peak times, leaving passengers walking a gauntlet of more than 20 bikes and motorcycles on some days before the parking ban was imposed.

He believed ample warning was given in letters attached to bikes and motorcycles over a three-week period.

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