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(Image: Tina Tiller)
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PoliticsJuly 3, 2023

Why the government is looking to hike parking fines

(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

Documents released to The Spinoff tease the government’s plan to make parking penalties more of an ‘effective deterrent’. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.

The government is considering updating the rules around parking offences – and adjusting the penalties – after an assessment conducted by the Ministry of Transport found that current fines weren’t doing enough to stop bad behaviour.

Parking penalty levels haven’t been updated since 1999, meaning their ability to deter drivers from breaking the rules has steadily decreased in the years since. While individual councils have the ability to set the cost of parking, control over the rate of any penalties lies with the government. That’s prompted some local officials, including Auckland mayor Wayne Brown, to call for a government overhaul of the existing legislation.

Documents released to The Spinoff under the Official Information Act show that’s exactly what the government is considering. We’ve been provided a series of briefings showing that ministry officials were first tasked with assessing the performance of the parking system in 2021. That included examining both parking requirement provisions as set out under the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 and the 1999 set of regulations that determines any offences and penalties.

By late 2022, a series of proposed changes for both had been drafted up as a “full package” of policy proposals and presented to the minister, split into sections dealing separately with parking requirements and offences. A “larger-scale” review will take place at a later time, the document noted.

The proposals include a provision to stop drivers using EV charging stations as free parking. (Image: Tina Tiller)

The documents detail recommended amendments to existing parking rules, including a proposed new offence intended to plug a gap in the current law surrounding electric vehicles. It was noted that some electric vehicle drivers are exploiting a loophole and using charging stations as, in effect, free parking. “We propose amending the road user rule to clarify that only EVs can use EV charging stations and that these EVs must only do so for the purposes of charging,” officials wrote. 

The other set of proposals tackled penalty levels specifically. Then transport minister Michael Wood was told current fines were too low to discourage offending. “This is a particular issue with respect to parking overstaying offences, where in some parts of the country the cost of a parking ticket is less than the actual parking charge, providing a clear incentive for people to risk getting a ticket, rather than paying to park,” officials told the minister. 

“Inflation has eroded their [parking penalties] value. As a consequence, they are no longer an effective deterrent and are not proportionate to the impacts created by parking offences.” 

Another document noted that the public had become “increasingly aware” of the lack of financial incentive to pay for parking. “We have noted posts on social media platforms and newspaper articles about the fact that it frequently costs more to pay for parking than it does if you choose not to comply.”

PSA (Image : Tina Tiller)

However, there were some risks raised to the minister. That included a “negative public perception” of increased fees and the concern it would be seen as just a “revenue gathering” tool for authorities. There was also a suggestion that members of the public may become verbally or physically abusive towards parking wardens if prices were to be hiked, though “parking teams are already experiencing this kind of response from the public, and are broadly very supportive of the proposed changes, in particular, to parking penalty levels”.

Another factor was that regional New Zealand could be disproportionately impacted by the suggested changes. “New Zealand’s urban environments differ from one region to the next. While one region may be well-connected through public transportation, other areas are reliant on using private vehicles to access employment, education and amenities,” the document read. 

Additionally, officials noted that not all regions have the same high demand for parking as some more urban centres. “For example, footpath parking is more likely to be a problem in Auckland and Wellington, where streets are narrow and there is a higher population density, compared to towns like Gisborne and Timaru” and “average incomes vary considerably between Auckland and Wellington, and the rest of the country”. Some authorities had also said that an increase in parking infringement levels was likely to be “acutely felt by communities in their regions”.

On the flipside, one briefing also noted a risk in not progressing with changes to parking regulation. “With fewer and fewer people opting to pay for parking, the ability of the system to fairly and efficiently allocate scarce parking resources will continue to be undermined. This could lead to worsening outcomes for safety, equitable access, economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and overall efficiency of the transport system.”

One detail notably missing from the documents released to The Spinoff was what any new fines might be. While a section outlining the recommended new penalty levels was within the documents, it was fully redacted. It was said, however, that the proposed new penalty levels were determined through application of the “Effective Transport Financial Penalties Policy Framework”, which has been released publicly.

Wayne Brown says parking fines in Auckland are too low to deter rule breakers. (Image: Tina Tiller)

It appears the review of parking offences has not made it beyond cabinet at this point, despite a draft timeline released to The Spinoff showing consultation would be completed earlier this year. One document shows that associate transport minister Kiri Allan went against transport ministry advice to take the package of suggested changes to cabinet in April.

Instead, she signed off only on public consultation on proposed changes to the broader parking regulations, such as that new offence pertaining to electric vehicles. This will end in about a week’s time. As these amendments were deemed minor, officials said consultation could begin without cabinet agreement, which would not be the case for broader changes.

In May, The Spinoff reported on the vast amount of money being hauled in by Auckland’s network of bus lane cameras. At the time, Wood said that “small updates and clarifications to some parking rules” were expected in the next few months. However, “the maximum fines for parking offences are not being included in this tranche of updates”. The Ministry of Transport was “expecting to progress some work regarding the various parking offences and penalties later in 2023 or earlier in 2024,” Wood said.

Last month, Auckland mayor Wayne Brown made headlines after he suggested fines should be at least $100, and not $12, as a way of deterring illegal parking. He expressed frustration that councils were not able to control how much could be charged. “They want us all to reduce car use, but it’s only a $12 parking fine in Auckland if you’re not paying,” he told RNZ’s Checkpoint. 

“It’s the same as in Gore… but I don’t think Gore has quite the same pressure that Auckland does.” 

Brown said it made “no sense” that it was sometimes cheaper for drivers to park up and pay the fine rather than actually paying for the park in the first place.

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