TAKEN FOR A RIDE

Rachel Lang tan­gles with a park­ing com­pany

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - RACHEL LANG IS A TELE­VI­SION WRITER WHOSE CRED­ITS IN­CLUDE FILTHY RICH (TVNZ 2, TUES­DAY, 8.30PM).

It’s said that when you get older you’ll turn into your mother.

I’ve turned into my fa­ther — and all be­cause of a park­ing ticket . . .

I get this ticket in May, for over­stay­ing in a car park. It’s from a com­pany I’ll call No Name Park­ing Ser­vices and is for $65. Yes, this is steep, but I go on­line and pay. I found it odd that the pay­ment went to a Larger Park­ing Com­pany, not NNPS — but who has the time or in­cli­na­tion to worry about these things? Cut to: June. I get two let­ters from No Name Park­ing Ser­vices, one say­ing I haven’t paid and ask­ing for $85. The other say­ing they’ve con­sid­ered my com­mu­ni­ca­tion and I’m still in breach and they want $85. If I don’t pay, they may ask me for even more, or take debt-col­lec­tion ac­tion.

This con­fuses me, since I haven’t com­mu­ni­cated with them at all. It also seems cheeky to ask for $85, when pre­vi­ously it was $65 — es­pe­cially when I’ve al­ready paid.

Ob­vi­ously, I need to get in touch with the com­pany to point out their er­ror.

I ex­pect this will be rel­a­tively sim­ple and I go on to their web­site. There is no link that says: “I’ve al­ready paid”. In­stead, there is a form for an ap­peal.

I en­ter my breach no­tice num­ber and reg­is­tra­tion and it takes me to a file with pic­tures of my car in the park­ing lot.

I fill out the form, ex­plain that I’ve paid and ask them to get their facts straight. In re­sponse, they say they’ve sent an email con­fir­ma­tion. Nope. They haven’t. This is con­cern­ing, so I de­cide to go old styles: I’ll talk to some­one.

I call the NNPS 0800 num­ber, which, help­fully, is open from 10am-3pm on week­days.

As I wait to be con­nected, I pon­der their limited hours.

My fan­tasy rea­son is: this is an en­light­ened com­pany and em­ploys only par­ents and care givers who need to get home early.

I see Rhonda, Aroha and Terry at their desks. They have pho­tos of their kids; Terry has one of his mum; Aroha has a medal from her CrossFit cham­pi­onship. They of­ten have morn­ing tea to­gether. Rhonda’s re­cently been di­ag­nosed with coeliac dis­ease, but they’re work­ing around with gluten-free op­tions.

This happy reverie is cut short by the mes­sage that I couldn’t be con­nected be­cause this mail­box is full.

I try again, and get the same mes­sage. I check the let­ters — to find out who works there. They’re signed by some­one called En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion. This is clearly not a real name. (I briefly won­der if any­one has ever named their child En­force­ment. Maybe in the US? Could it catch on?)

But for now, my hopes are dashed. How will I ever con­tact NNPS?

I write to them. I ask them to con­firm that I’ve paid, close the file and take down those pho­tos of my car. Also I ask who their man­ager is, be­cause I’d like to find out why they’re hard to con­tact and why they seem so sur­pris­ingly rude and ap­par­ently in­com­pe­tent.

The let­ter is in the en­ve­lope when I get an email from NNPS. They want proof I’ve paid. I’m as­ton­ished. Why has this be­come my re­spon­si­bil­ity? Don’t they have ac­counts?

I make a copy of the bank trans­ac­tion record and send it to them.

I get an au­to­mated re­sponse telling me I can ap­peal on­line, via their por­tal. But I’m no longer in­ter­ested in their por­tals.

In­stead, I write to the Larger Park­ing Com­pany to ask them if they’re aware that their sub­sidiary seems to be in­com­pe­tent. Then, overnight, a thought oc­curs. I am turn­ing into my fa­ther. My fa­ther, John, is a cham­pion of con­sumer rights and does the hard yards on the 0800 lines.

Most fa­mously, he got a seg­ment on Fair Go about the fact there were fewer squares in rolls of toi­let paper. He’d counted them. He also ex­posed the dearth of sul­tanas in Sultana Bran. He’d counted the sul­tanas too.

Yes, how we fondly laughed. But now I re­alise two things.

1. Dad is to­tally right — and I un­der­stand the urge to count sul­tanas. 2. NNPS has be­come my Sultana Bran.

An­other day; an­other let­ter from NNPS.

They want proof I’ve paid. Why has this be­come my re­spon­si­bil­ity? Don’t they have ac­counts?

They’ve con­sid­ered my com­mu­ni­ca­tion and still want me to pay $85.

This is so bril­liant it makes me laugh. They should be pay­ing me by now.

I also start to won­der if No Name ex­ists at all. Maybe they’re in Jakarta, or they’re just a com­puter fir­ing out let­ters? Maybe there is no Rhonda, Aroha and Terry?

I call the 0800 num­ber. To my shock, I get through to — J. She sounds very nice. I ex­plain my prob­lem and J sug­gests I send through proof that I’ve paid.

I tell her I’ve al­ready sent the trans­ac­tion copy and ask if their ac­counts could check their records. J tells me the ac­counts per­son isn’t in. But I have to know where NNPS has its of­fice. J: (be­mused) Auck­land. Me: What part of Auck­land? J: (wor­ried) Queen St. Me: How many peo­ple work in your of­fice? J: (af­ter a pause) Two. We’re a bit un­der­staffed at the mo­ment.

I agree that I was get­ting that im­pres­sion. (Also have to re­cast my fan­tasy of­fice and make Terry re­dun­dant). I ask if J’s man­ager could get back to me about the pay­ment. Also, I’m think­ing of writ­ing a story about this and I have some ques­tions.

Maggie from the Con­sumer advice line has al­ready heard tell of No Name Park­ing Ser­vices . . .

I ask if the onus is re­ally on me to prove that I’ve paid, and she tells me it is.

I ask if it’s le­gal for NNPS to hike their park­ing fines any way they choose.

Maggie agrees it seems un­fair but, yes, they can do this.

I ask her what a per­son is meant to do when they are trapped in such a Kafka-es­que nightmare. She sug­gests that all I can do is keep fol­low­ing up.

(She sym­pa­thises about me turn­ing into my fa­ther, but likes the cut of Dad’s jib.)

A new week. The pho­tos of the car are still in the on­line file. I still owe $85.

Then, sur­prise! I hear from No Name (truly no-name: the let­ter isn’t signed.)

This should feel good, shouldn’t it? But I’m not feel­ing re­solved. I write back to No Name.

I hear from Karin from the of­fice of the Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner. She sug­gests I con­tact the Pri­vacy Of­fi­cer at NNPS about their rea­sons for re­tain­ing my in­for­ma­tion.

By now I know that this will be any­thing but sim­ple. Is this Sisyphean task worth it?

The Dad-grow­ing-strong-in-me can’t be­lieve I’m even ask­ing this ques­tion. How else will com­pa­nies dis­close the num­ber of squares on toi­let roll pack­ag­ing? How else do park­ing com­pa­nies be­come more ac­count­able?

Mean­while, in my fan­tasy of­fice, Rhonda, Aroha and Terry (re­hired) are help­ful and re­spon­sive and per­son­ally sign their let­ters. And 20 per cent of all their park­ing fines go to the City Mis­sion! They are so great, I want to buy them fan­tasy morn­ing tea (gluten-free).

In real life, I look fondly at a packet of Sultana Bran in the su­per­mar­ket. And call my Dad. He tells me to keep up the good work.

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