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Tuesday 14 February 2023

Is Hobart City Council operating an illegal extortion scheme?

A few years ago, Hobart City Council installed a swag of new high-tech - and very expensive - parking meters (above).

A lot of Tasmanians did not like them because they were extremely complicated to use - and impossible to read if the sun was shining in the wrong direction.

After while people got used to the new meters, and complaints died down.

Then, late last year, I was hit by two parking fines within a period of a month.

On both occasions I was certain that I had gone through all the right steps - and tapped my credit card to pay.

The first time it happened, I doubted myself and paid the fine of $45.25.

The little piece of paper left on my windscreen had warned that if I didn't pay within 28 days I "could have my driver's licence or vehicle registration suspended" and my name and address could be published, "which may affect your credit rating".

Scary stuff.

The second time, wary from the first incident. I made absolutely sure I followed all the instructions.

But when I returned to my car, well within the time limit, there was another piece of paper saying I owed another $45.25 - this despite the meter having assured my payment had been processed.

This time I went straight to the council offices to make an official complaint. And to threaten to charge them with theft.

I was given the run around before being given a long form to fill in - a form so long that it would persuade all but the angriest motorist to shut up and pay up - which is, of course, exactly what it is designed to do.

I had time, however, and was not willing to let them get away it.

Lo and behold, two months later, this afternoon I received an email from Hobart City Council admitting that their meter had been at fault.

It said: "A check of the City’s records shows that a payment matching your description was attempted shortly after the vehicle’s arrival, however the transaction failed due to a communications error.

"Unfortunately, communication errors aren’t always immediately evident to the user; the payment has failed at some stage after you walked away from the parking meter, through no fault of your own.

"As a result of Council’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding this infringement, I wish to advise that the notice has now been withdrawn.

"We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused and appreciate your cooperation in resolving this matter."

This raises so many questions.

How many other motorists - including tourists visiting the Tasmanian capital - have parked legally and then been fined because of a "communications error" beyond their control? 

How many parking fines issued in error has the council banked because drivers just paid up rather than fill in the tedious form, or go to court?

How often do these "communications errors" occur, and how regularly does council check that meters are operating correctly?

Why does council not make a compensation payment to motorists it has wrongly accused and fined? And threated?

I am now asking the council to take another look at my previous fine - and to pay compensation for the time I have wasted trying male them aware of their faulty machinery. Wish me luck.

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