TAKEN FOR A RIDE
Rachel Lang tangles with a parking company
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.