Music-lovers driving into central Auckland for a night out on a Thursday in mid-June had a spot of unexpected bother.
In the parking buildings and parking lots controlled by Wilson Parking, where they were expecting to pay a flat-fee evening rate, they found the pre-pay machines boarded up. Roving attendants with portable eftpos machines were asking for as much as $25 for parking that normally cost either $8 or $12, depending on the location.
Many - probably most - coughed up, which is not surprising. They would have planned to allow for parking time, but not for a stressful search for an alternative.
Parking was hard to find because it was a busy night; the opera and the symphony were on, on opposite sides of Aotea Square. So the drivers - who were already shelling out an average of almost $100 a seat for their entertainment - paid and fumed.
Their fuming came to the attention of the Herald and a reporter was assigned to seek an explanation. What she got was a written statement, signed off by Wilson's chief executive.
The statement in full runs to 383 words and Wilson was miffed when the reporter did not produce it in its prolix and banal entirety. I know this because the spokesman quoted told me that the reporter "picked a very, very small piece" of it. For the record, the bits that didn't make the paper were the observation that the parking industry is "dynamic" and demand-driven; that sometimes events are held in "a number of places throughout New Zealand"; that these events generate "significant increase in demand [for]" and "significant pressure [on]" parking supply; and that customers who pre-book parking online can get discounted rates.
Since the reporter's entire piece was only 486 words long and it needed both to describe the problem and record the parkers' responses, she had to edit the statement. The bits she left out, with the possible exception of the last point, being obvious to anyone who knows which way to face when they get into a car, she did a pretty good job of it.
What was left (and was duly quoted) had the corpse-limp feel of a written statement that has passed through several pairs of hands. It was a perfect example of what George Orwell meant in his imperishable 1946 essay Politics and the English Language when he referred to language "designed to make lies sound truthful ... and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind".
This is not to suggest the statement contained any lies but it contained enough wind to constitute a danger to shipping. The heightened demand for parking, it said, "requires us to provide additional resource" (the attendants with eftpos units to give traffic directions, signage and security) "to ensure the car park runs smoothly [and] safely, and a high level of service is achieved for our customers." Plainly, such services, once engaged, need to be paid for. But by that logic, they might have charged $100 for parking and provided a jazz band and waiters handing out strawberry martinis.
The question is: were they needed? Most Aucklanders can park a car and read those signs saying "Car Park Full" that get put out even when the flat rate is $8.
The statement went on to say that "quite often" when an event was on, prices "at the most conveniently located carparks ... are positioned slightly higher than a normally discounted weekend or evening 'flat rate'." In plain English, a fee that is somewhere between more than double and more than treble the normal rate would not be described as being "positioned slightly higher".
Neither would an evening rate billed on the company's website as "night fees" be described as discounted. Nowhere does the website mention the doubling or trebling of night fees when "events" are on (aren't events always on?). Night fees exist because demand is normally lower at night.
Wilson's statement should have read, "We charged more because we could; that's business". Even Orwell would have approved of such plainness.
Wilson's chief executive was too busy to talk to me, so I asked in writing whether "quite often" meant they had done this before; whether they would do it again; and how many spaces attracted the charge that night.
I also wonder whether "event" charges should be posted on their website.
They didn't give me the answers.