A Tauranga disability advocacy group is applauding a local supermarket's decision to trial an app that would clamp down on abuse of mobility parking spaces.
Paul Curry, co-chair of the Tauranga Disability Advisory Group, said misuse of mobility parking spaces was widespread in the Tauranga area.
He said 28 per cent of the population in the Bay of Plenty had some form of disability and were paying for the privilege of parking in a mobility parking space.
Permits for mobility parking come in two different types - long-term, which is valid for five years, and short-term, which is valid for up to 12 months.
The long-term permit costs $50, whereas the short-term permit costs $35.
"The biggest problem is people think 'oh I'm only going to be a couple of minutes', but it might be in that couple of minutes that [someone with a parking permit] might be driving by and try to find somewhere else to park," Curry said.
Curry said the worst places in the Tauranga area for mobility parking space misuse were behind the Tauranga City Council and library building on Willow St, as well as Pāpāmoa Plaza.
"In the Pāpāmoa Plaza area . . . they've got more car parks there than anywhere else, but there's massive abuse where people are just popping in to get their pizza or their fish and chips.
"It's very difficult for people to police, whereas this app will be able to give real-time advice on where the abuse is taking place."
Curry said the main selling point of the app was that it could allow people who required mobility parking spaces to call out abusers without getting into a confrontation.
The app is designed to report the misuse of mobility car parks in real-time, by enabling users to upload photos of vehicles which are parked in mobility spaces without a permit.
"I've been abused in the past ... it's quite intimidating, so we don't tend to make a noise, we just drive off and try to find somewhere else," he said.
CCS Disability Action, who manage and issue permits for mobility parking, rolled out their free Access Aware app in the Tauranga area six months ago.
Countdown supermarkets began trialling the app in Dunedin and extended the trial this week to several other locations, including Countdown Bureta Park.
The app will alert the store when a user uploads a photo indicating abuse of a mobility car park has taken place, and the store will then voice an announcement over the PA asking the owner to move their car to the general section of the car park.
Curry said that all supermarkets should be using the Access Aware app.
"Why would you provide mobility car parks if you know that people without disabilities might be using them without you knowing or having any way of helping them move on?" he said.
"I think that's a real issue ... they've gone to great extent to put in the right size car parks, the right number of car parks, but if they're not available because people abuse the system, then it means that their customers with disabilities are excluded from their store."
Colene Herbert, general manager for CCS Disability Action's midland region, said while it was a nice gesture for big stores like Countdown to trial the app, it was designed more for everyday users.
"The app is actually designed for everyday people with disabilities who have to put up with able-bodied people taking their car parks," she said.
"It's great that big businesses are aware of it, particularly in shopping malls ... but it's not designed for them."
She said the amount of money that a permit cost was quite a lot for someone who might not be working full-time.
"It's a lot to be spending on parking for a year, and to have the insult of people who haven't paid taking their spaces; it's not fair.
"That's why we created that app - so that people have a way of bringing it to people's attention," she said.
Herbert said they worked in partnership with local councils.
"They're the ones with the power to be able to enforce penalties on people who are just taking advantage."
Herbert said the Bureta Park area had the highest number of complaints reported to the app, which was why Countdown had decided to use their store there as part of the trial.
Amanda Lowry, who became a tetraplegic after a kiteboarding accident six years ago, said it was important that people with disabilities were able to access mobility parks.
"If you stop us from accessing our community, it makes it pretty tough," she said.
Lowry said she hadn't noticed a particular issue with the misuse of mobility parking spaces in Tauranga, but it happened "every now and then".
"What are you going to do?
"Someone's not in their car and they don't have a mobility sticker, you're just going to keep driving until you find another car park."
"It happens, but I think people are becoming more aware of it," she said.
Lowry said using the app made it a lot easier to identify where mobility parks were in town, since she could only visit places with mobility spaces due to using a hoist to get in and out of her vehicle.
"It takes 2.5m to get me out of my car, on the left-hand side," she said.
"I need quite a lot of room."
She said the best thing about using the app was that it would immediately inform a parking warden when a user uploaded a photo.
"The minute you park in my park and you don't have a sticker ... I can alert a traffic warden within 600m, and they will come and you'll get a fine.
"There's an immediate consequence to parking there, and the disabled user has some voice in the process instead of just sitting there and watching someone take your park," Lowry said.
Scott Goodman, Tauranga City Council's team leader for regulation monitoring, said while the council wasn't exactly sure how big an issue it was, they did receive regular complaints about abuse of mobility parking.
He said anyone caught parked in a mobility parking space without a permit would receive an instant $150 fine.
Kiri Hannifin, Countdown's general manager of corporate affairs, safety and sustainability, said Countdown is committed to providing customers across the country with safe and convenient mobility car parks.
"Introducing the Access Aware app is an opportunity to reiterate that these car parks are there for a purpose," she said.
"We want to make it clear for any customer with mobility needs that these car parks are here for you."
The free app can be downloaded from Google Play or the Apple store by searching for Access Aware.