Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
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An elderly man makes a less than happy visit to Tournament Parking in Shortland Street

Brian Edwards
Sat, 22 Jun 2013

For more than a decade we have run our media training courses at  the University of Auckland’s television studio complex  in the Kenneth Myers Centre in Shortland Street.

There could no more appropriate venue. The building was constructed in 1934 as the first home of the 1YA radio network and later housed the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation’s Auckland television studios. I have vivid memories of recording Gallery interviews there in the late 60s and early 70s.

Directly across the street, and wonderfully convenient, is a Tournament Parking building. It’s pricey, but then all private parking is pricey in Auckland. On average we run one or two half-day training courses a week. So over the last 11 years we’ve paid Tournament Parking a hell of a lot of money. And we’ve never overstayed the time paid for.

A couple of weeks ago, however, we were delayed by a client and arrived back at our car to find that a ‘parking officer’  had just placed an infringement notice under our wiper blade. The ticket showed that parking had been pre-paid to 4.45 pm. The ticket had been issued at 4.51pm.

Tournament allows a grace period of five minutes, so we’d exceeded our permitted parking time by one minute.  The parking fine, which Tournament euphemistically call a ‘notice’, was $65.

The parking officer was now photographing the number plates of other offending vehicles and ticketing them. When I confronted him with the fact that he had clearly been waiting beside our car for the prepaid time to expire, he apologised profusely. It was, he agreed, ‘outrageous’ but he had his job to do. ‘This lot will be gone in a couple of weeks anyway,’ he added.

He was a nice guy and I apologised to him for my angry tone. 

My mood wasn’t improved when we got home and I read the dire warnings on the back of the ‘notice’:

‘You must pay the Amount Due within 21 days of the Issue Date. The Amount Due consists of an Invalid Parking Fee plus an Enforcement Administration Fee as specified in the Terms and Conditions of Parking and Parking Rates Signage displayed at the Carpark. You will be liable for a further $25 if this Notice remains unpaid after 21 days from the Issue Date. Should this Parking Breach Notice remain unpaid for 30 days from the Issue Date, Debt Collection Proceedings will commence and you will be liable for further costs, including any solicitor/client costs incurred in enforcing payment of the monies owed by you. The above-mentioned vehicle may also be CLAMPED and/or TOWED from the Carpark and only released upon payment of the release fee and any outstanding debt, in accordance with the Terms and Conditions of Parking and Parking Rates signage displayed at the Carpark.’

My first instinct was not to pay the fine, but to let the matter run its inevitable course and meet these gentlemen in court. After all, I’m the guy who started Fair Go and hosted/produced the programme for 8 years. And I’m a mate of the second most trusted person in New Zealand. They wouldn’t stand a snowball’s in hell.

But I thought better of it. In addition to all those dire warnings, the ‘notice’ refers you to Tournament’s website where you can learn ‘How to Appeal this Parking Breach Notice’ and find ‘information on commonly asked questions with regard to valid appeals.’

The information includes the claim that Tournament ‘have estimated the liquidated damages arising from the breach to be up to $65.  This is made up of $25 for average loss of revenue due to non-purchase/display of valid ticket, plus a $40 administration charge for the cost of monitoring the car park, issuing and processing the breach notice and dealing with any subsequent correspondence, debt collection and write-offs.  We believe this amount to be fair and reasonable as it has been supported by the Disputes Tribunal.  Again, these charges are stated in our terms and conditions.’

Tournament had no ‘loss of revenue’ from our one-minute overstay. Most of their clients had already gone home and there were plenty of empty parking spaces. So why were we being charged the $25?

I was also intrigued by the ‘up to’ in ‘up to $65’. If being just one minute over your prepaid parking time costs $65, what could possibly incur a lesser fine? I’m guessing nothing. And I suspect that Tournament’s maximum penalty is identical to its minimum penalty. Everybody pays $65.

But back to Tournament’s website and ‘How to Appeal this Parking Breach Notice’. Well, you can read the information for yourself, but I think you’ll find there are actually no circumstances that Tournament will accept as grounds for not paying them $65 for being even one minute late.

I nonetheless wrote to Carpark Monitoring Services (a division of Tournament Parking Ltd) outlining our previous history of parking in the Shortland Street building, suggesting that $65 was out of proportion for overstaying one’s welcome by one minute, or even 6 minutes, and inviting them on those grounds to waive the fine.

A week or so later, I received a reply from one Marcus Baker, Enforcement Administration, Carpark Monitoring Services. The reply had all the hallmarks of a form letter which anyone appealing a parking fine would receive.

Marcus said Tournament ‘sympathized with [my] position in this case’, directed my attention to the aforementioned Terms and Conditions of Parking and Parking Rates,  ‘clearly marked’, he said, ‘and displayed at the Carpark’. He then invited me to send the $65 within 14 days or face the consequences.

Well, the Terms and Conditions are displayed on the signage at the entrance to the parking building, but clearly? I think not. To read the Terms and Conditions you would in fact have to get down on your hands and knees, preferably with a magnifying glass. Your car, meanwhile, would be blocking entry to the carpark to other vehicles, whose drivers might not be sympathetic to your taking 10 minutes to decipher Tournament’s fine print.

So, lest you think I’m exaggerating, Judy and I went back to the carpark and took a photograph.

Tournament’s entire argument for declining to waive their $65 fine for our having overstayed our  welcome by 6 minutes, or one minute if you take into account their 5-minute grace period, is that their Terms and Conditions are ‘clearly displayed’ on the carpark signage. They aren’t. They can only be read with extreme difficulty. That might well be sufficient to have a court throw out their argument.

So here are my conclusions:

  • Tournament employs ‘parking officers’ to wait for clients to exceed their prepaid time by as little as one minute before they are issued with a parking infringement notice.
  • Tournament claims that clients breaching their Terms and Conditions of Parking and Parking Rates will face a penalty of ‘up to $65’. It’s extremely likely that the penalty is always the full $65.
  • Tournament can earn a minimum of twice and a maximum of 16 times as much from a parking fine as it does from parking charges. [For example, if you overstayed a half-hour park costing $4.]
  • Though Tournament advises clients of their right to appeal a parking infringement notice, few if any such appeals are likely to be accepted.
  • Tournament says its Terms and Conditions of Parking are ‘clearly displayed’ on its signage. In its Shortland Street building, they are not.

The public view of the private owners and operators of parking buildings and parking lots is regularly expressed in complaints to television programmes like Fair Go, Target, Campbell Live and to organisations like Consumer.  Rightly or wrongly, that view is that they exploit the serious lack of public parking in our major cities to fleece those who have little alternative but to use their services.

In general such complaints are a waste of time. The owners and operators of these facilities are inured to the public’s judgement of their business practices or morality. They’re making money and they don’t give a stuff.

I used to meet a guy on the Waiheke Ferry who was a senior executive with another large parking outfit. People were regularly telling him what thieving bastards he worked for. Their opinions rolled off him like water off a duck’s back. Funnily enough, that was the thing that disturbed me most about him.

Today, I read that, more or less as our nice parking officer had said, Tournament’s assets have been sold to Southeast Asia’s biggest player, Wilson Parking. Will it make an iota of difference to the way they operate? I very much doubt it. These companies are all cut from the same cloth.

Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards has retired from posting blogs at Brian Edwards Media

Brian Edwards
Sat, 22 Jun 2013
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An elderly man makes a less than happy visit to Tournament Parking in Shortland Street