Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Traffic Money Spinners

City Council continues to milk the motorists

Does anyone really think that Councils are not using traffic infringements as a means of revenue generation as opposed to trying to educate and bring about good traffic management?

200m parking grab

COUNCILS are ripping more than $215 million in fines from tens of thousands of motorists for minor parking offences.

And some councils have admitted for the first time they set quotas for parking officers

A Herald Sun investigation of 11 inner-city councils has revealed:

ALLEGATIONS of bullying of officers to reach monthly parking infringement quotas.

A CRACKDOWN on fine defaulters that is tipped to bring in millions more.

A $40 MILLION annual revenue stream from meters.

MORE popular shopping strips, including Chapel St, High St and Glenferrie Rd, could be in line for meters.

A CASH grab of $215 million in fines over three years.

City of Melbourne chief executive David Pitchford admitted yesterday that parking officers had been over-zealous in meeting daily parking fine quotas for 10 years.

He said some managers threatened officers with the sack if they didn't each issue 30 tickets a day.

A former parking officer, employed by the City of Stonnington through contractor Tenix, also said grey ghosts were under increasing pressure to fill council coffers.

The former officer said there was a "subtle but comprehensive form of bullying".

They were threatened with a financial penalty if targets were not met.

"The words emblazoned on our shirts clearly reads 'Parking Assistance and Information'. This is surely a contradiction in terms, and perhaps should read 'Enforcement and Revenue Raising'," the ex-traffic officer said.

Stonnington chief executive officer Hadley Sides admitted the council had a yearly target for parking fines.

He said the target was based on historical data and "patrol frequencies".

Municipal Association of Victoria president Geoff Lake was unapologetic. He said fines up to $100 were not too high, arguing that the penalty was comparable with other fees and charges.

"If you do the crime, you pay the fine," he said. And he rejected claims that parking officers were overzealous.

"I think parking officers would be managed in a professional and appropriate way, as any other function of the council would be in the interests of efficiency and appropriate management," Mr Lake said.

He said fines were issued to protect residents and traders.

"If you do the wrong thing you get stung and you pay a fine because you've overstayed a parking restriction and you've denied traders the ability to generate extra revenue from having more customers visit.

"It's not like we're talking about innocent people having extra charges applied to them in their rates. We're talking about recalcitrants or people who are irresponsible in their parking habits, who are contributing to the revenue generated by councils from parking fines.

"If everybody tomorrow started obeying the parking laws and restrictions, overnight the revenue would go to zero."

The survey found that parking fines raised a total of $70.43 million for the 11 inner-city councils in 2004-05. Another $70.66 million is budgeted this financial year and $75.53 million next.

Melbourne City Council expects to sting motorists almost $28 million this financial year, followed by Stonnington on $9.6 million and Port Phillip on $9.3 million.

Mr Lake said councils were owed $140 million in unpaid parking fines.

He said new legislation by the Bracks Government to crack down on serial fine defaulters would help recoup that.

The Government announced last year that it would force defaulters off the road, seize goods or suspend licences in an effort to shrink the growing pile of unpaid fines.

Most of the 11 councils surveyed have parking inspectors, rather than contractors.Melbourne and Glen Eira were the only two, besides Stonnington, using private contractors.

Boroondara spokeswoman Trish Smith said fines were part of responsible road management. One man who considers himself a parking fine victim is plumber Peter Ashby, who says he was penalised by Melbourne City Council despite assurances he would not be.

Mr Ashby said the parking meter in Franklin St in the city was broken and ate his coins.

So he phoned the council and complained, and was assured he would not be fined.

Soon a bill arrived demanding cash and costs.

Mr Ashby said he would now charge the council for wasted time and phone calls.

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