Parking fine? No flipping way I’ll pay
Carpark firms have no legal right to impose excessive fines, and motorists know how to play the system, writes Nicole Lawton.
A retired cabbie has flipped off Wilson Parking, refusing to pay a $65 ticket and instead sending a picture of his middle finger to the multinational.
Mark Reimer’s provocative response makes him one of a number of New Zealanders who have faced no repercussions for refusing to pay ‘‘excessive’’ commercial parking fines. It brings into question parking companies’ legal power to enforce their demands.
The stand-off comes as the company confirms it is paying performance incentives to its 65 parking enforcement officers, who issued motorists with more than 100,000 breach notices in the past year.
Another Kiwi spoken to scrawls ‘‘no contract’’ on the ticket, and sends it back to the company. Others write strongly worded letters contesting the amount of the fine.
Reimer says Wilson and other carparking companies have no statutory or contractual basis to charge fines as high as $65 for exceeding the time limit in parking spots worth as little as $1 or $3 an hour.
‘‘What they are doing is bluffing,’’ he said. ‘‘There are not too many people who can pull the wool over my eyes.’’
The last time he was ticketed was at Christchurch’s South-City carpark. The company was sent his standard response: a photo of his middle finger.
Wilson Parking is New Zealand’s largest parking company. Last year it took more than $2 million from 68,400 Kiwis who broke their parking rules, it revealed in documents supplied to Sunday Star-Times.
Parking officers performing well are rewarded on top of their pay cheques, the company said in a statement. It did not disclose the amount it gives to officers who deliver.
But Wilson Parking said the performance payments were not made for handing out large numbers of tickets; rather, they were for attendance, coverage, accuracy, and following procedures. ‘‘This is not commission as that would only encourage a raft of ‘borderline’ notices,’’ spokeswoman Anne-Marie Petersen said.
The private business controls 300 parking lots across the country, from Auckland to Invercargill, boasting enough space to park 40,000 cars.
It is fast gaining a throat-hold on the private parking market: it now owns a majority share of Tournament Parking and is slowly swallowing its former competitor.
In the 2017 financial year, Wilson made a profit of $12m, up from $10m the previous year.
Parking costs range from just $1 per hour in places like Palmerston North, to $16 per hour in the coveted Auckland CBD. But overstay in one of their pay-and-display parks and you risk copping a ‘‘breach of contract’’ notice with a $65 enforcement fee.
This could contribute to why it is the ninth-most complained about business in New Zealand, according to the Commerce Commission.
Consumer NZ and the Automobile Association say Wilson’s $65 penalty fee is unreasonable.
‘‘What Wilson do is that they try and pretend that they have some authority to fine you if you overstay your parking,’’ said Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin.
But because that right is reserved for police or the council, Wilson instead issues a ‘‘breach of contract’’ notice, with an ‘‘enforcement’’ fee to pay included.
The ‘‘contract’’ part comes from the company stipulating that when you enter one of it’s parking lots, you agree to the contract it sets out in fine print.
Chetwin said the cost of any breach notice had to be reasonable, and people should always challenge them. ‘‘Car parking companies have no legal authority to impose fines. If the parking costs $3 an hour, then it’s unreasonable to be charged $65 for being a few minutes late.’’
The AA’s Mark Stockdale recommended writing a letter to the company and offering to pay a reasonable amount based on the hourly rate, and appropriate admin costs.
Wilson figures reveal about 70 per cent of the notices were given out because people failed to pay anything before or after parking in a Wilson carpark, despite signage. The remaining 30 per cent were motorists returning late to their car.
In the same year, Wilson said it waived about 40 per cent of breach notices under a goodwill policy. ‘‘We do allow a standard 10-minute grace time plus an additional 15-minute period if the parker provides us with a valid reason for being late,’’ Petersen said.
‘‘We do not like enforcing people.’’ Mike Reimer said: ‘‘If you just ignore them they go away.’’
What Wilson do is that they try and pretend that they have some authority to fine you if you overstay your parking. Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin