Two precious dollars

IT’S just $2, but the pursuit seems reasonable in light of Newcastle City Council’s predation on anyone as little as 20 cents short in their stay at a parking meter. And who am I to dismiss $2 as just $2!

So early in the afternoon of Friday, June 15, Margaret Neal, who tells me she is a modern 70-year-old, sent this email from her Belmont home to Newcastle council:

‘‘This morning I parked in Church Street in a four-hour metered zone in front of Newcastle Courthouse. The person before me I think used a credit card for his entry, then after he left I put in my first $2 coin but the machine read something like ‘transaction cancelled’. I’m not sure if the word was transaction but the word cancelled definitely appeared. I kept feeding coins in after the next coin indicated the machine was activated until I had paid $6, but the original $2 was not accounted for.

‘‘How will you be refunding this $2? Do you need my bank details or would you prefer to send me a cheque? The number at the top of the meter docket reads 10235, and the meter was 19007-CH07. The payment was entered at 8.25am.’’

Well, why not? Newcastle council makes no bones about its relentless hunt for parking infringements being about extracting as much revenue as possible from parkers.

Newcastle council responded:

‘‘Thank you for submitting a service request or correspondence via email/web. Your request will be distributed to the appropriate section of Council for action. A Council Officer will provide a response to your request where a response is required or will action the request without providing a response where the action has clearly been completed. If you do not receive a response OR do not observe the completed action within 14 days, please do not hesitate to contact the Customer Enquiry Centre.’’

The 14 days came and went and on the 15th day Mrs Neal sent this at the head of a copy of her original email:

‘‘Below is a copy of the email I sent to you on June 15. Your acknowledgment indicated I’d receive a response within 14 days. It is now 15 working days since then. Why have you not replied?’’

Newcastle council responded with the same promise of a response:

‘‘Thank you for submitting a service request or correspondence via email/web. Your request . . .. If you do not receive a response OR do not observe the completed action within 14 days, please do not hesitate to contact the Customer Enquiry Centre.’’

Seventeen days later Mrs Neal received this letter, which bore the date July 6, 11 days earlier:

‘‘I refer to your email dated June 15 2012 requesting a refund of $2 from parking machine CH07 which you have advised was faulty on June 15 2012. Council’s records do not indicate that the stated parking machine was faulty on the day in question. In this regard Council is not in a position to provide you with a refund. Should you wish to discuss this matter or require further information, please contact Council's Senior Parking Meter Technician.’’

The next day Mrs Neal completed a statutory declaration, duly witnessed by a JP, which included the statements she’d made in her first email to the council about her encounter with the parking ticket machine, and the council has had that declaration for a week.

On Friday I asked the council whether it could check whether the amount of money accepted by a parking machine on a particular day matched the time dispensed, and a council spokesman said that while such a comparison was not possible for a single day it was for multiple days, given that the machines were not emptied daily.

Even so, I can’t imagine that the machine would give free time so such a check of machine 19007-CH07 at first opportunity after Mrs Neal’s encounter would have been valuable in assessing the credibility of her complaint. If the council didn’t do this, and it appears it did not, it seems to be not in a position to dismiss Mrs Neal as a liar.

Margaret Neal, by the way, has never had a parking fine in Newcastle.

Have you been shortchanged by a parking meter? Do you agree that principle is worth more than money?

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