|Daily Telegraph - Sunday 20 March 2011
A meter-maid mentality
By Harold Scruby
IF YOU want to park in the Governor Macquarie Tower carpark, where Roads Minister David Borger parks his car, it will cost you $72 for 3 hours or more … every day.
If you stop for even one second in Bent Street, just outside his office, in front of the pedestrian crossing, it will cost you $253 and 1 demerit point.
But if you park on the footpath, outside his office, it will cost you $86. If by chance you get booked, you can stay there forever.
It’s called double jeopardy, meaning you can’t be booked twice for the same offence. Most other states have regulated that a new day brings a new offence, but not in pedestrian hostile NSW.
In spite of letters from the Assistant Commissioner of Police, the Lord Mayor, most disabilities groups, NSW Rangers and a recommendation from the Auditor-General to fix these anomalies, the NSW Government continues to put motorists first while displaying a contumelious disregard for the safety, amenity, access and rights of the largest and most vulnerable road-user group: pedestrians.
Apart from the pain, grief and suffering, road trauma costs NSW around $9 billion per annum, to which local government contributes not one penny.
In NSW, pedestrian deaths for 2010 were up around ten per cent on 2009. And with a rapidly ageing population, this will worsen, unless the government takes pedestrian safety seriously.
In 2009-10, nearly 1.4 million parking fines were issued in NSW, exceeding $158 million. Most were non-safety related. But dangerous parking can have the same lethal consequences as dangerous driving, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists.
In 1999, the NSW Auditor-General conducted an extensive study into parking enforcement. He discovered mismanagement, appalling work-practices, poor accountability, perfunctory behaviour, no performance measurement and little if any use of the data held by the SDRO.
He recommended that the Government:
• clarify the objectives (and their relative priority) to be achieved from enforcement
• allocate the responsibilities for the enforcement of street parking between the police and councils.
A decade later, nothing has changed except the revenue and the date.
In February 2010, the Auditor-General released another performance audit. He found: “…illegal and unsafe parking can be routinely observed in many school zones. Most councils do little or no enforcement of parking restrictions in NSW school zones.”
In a classic example of “greed is good”, North Sydney Council installed 4 parking meters too close to a major pedestrian crossing, used by 3 schools, compromising line-of-sight and flagrantly breaching the RTA’s Technical Directions.
In spite of requests to remove the meters from the NSW Police, the Chief Executive of the RTA, the Regional Traffic Committee and the Minister for Roads, the Mayor, Councillor Genia McCaffery stated in 2006: "if we follow these guidelines we'll virtually lose parking all over North Sydney".
Four years later, the parking meters remain.
When faced with the option of compromising safety and line of sight or installing an extra parking meter, councils will usually opt for the dollar. They are not required to perform any safety or needs assessments. There is little if any consideration given to the delivery agents or transport operators. So they have developed a universal system which would make Stevie Wonder blush.
Because there are not enough spaces to park legally, rangers are pressured to turn their collective blind eyes to all things commercial such as trucks, couriers, taxis and tradesmen.
While they can spot an expired meter from Mars, rangers won’t see a semi-trailer parked across a pedestrian crossing, especially if its hazard lights are flashing, or there’s at least one orange witch’s hat within cooee. They are also pressured to lay off residential areas and avoid rate-payers and voters – it’s an unwritten, ubiquitous policy of strategic avoidance: “No complaints, no confrontation, no media. Just blitz the meters.”
A recent covert cameras study outside a pub on a main road in Double Bay revealed 247 dangerous parking offences in an eight hour period. Over 87% were taxis, at a rate of one offence every 2 minutes; potentially exceeding $50,000 in fines.
When confronted with the evidence, former Woollahra Mayor Andrew Petrie retorted: "The cabs do it everywhere. They're a law unto themselves. They'll stop in the middle of the road to pick up a passenger, and this is just another example of what they do right through the city.”
He unashamedly blamed the Taxi Council and Minister for Transport, failing to mention that in 2008, Woollahra’s rangers issued nearly 28,000 parking fines: but only 10 to taxis. In the CBD, the covert cameras captured 161 taxis illegally parking in a disabled zone in a 9 hour period.
Had all the offences observed been prosecuted, the City of Sydney would have grossed over $70,000 … in 9 hours. No enforcement activity was observed. Although they are the agency primarily responsible for parking enforcement and the overall safety of the community, NSW Police are simply not interested.
In the past five years, over 1100 Highway Patrol officers each issued fewer than 1.5 tickets to taxis. And in school zones, they issued fewer than seven tickets per officer over the last 3 years.
After 6PM, most rangers clock off. Consequently, widespread dangerous parking offences go mostly
unenforced. It’s systemic anarchy.
There’s no accountability, no transparency, no fairness or equity and no overall authority or responsibility. Council Traffic Committees are rubber stamps and their sinecured Road Safety Officers do little more than promulgate pamphlets.
The entire system is screaming out for review by STAYSAFE and the Ombudsman. It must be focused on safety first and revenue-raising last, regularly reviewed and independently audited.
Safety related parking signs must be under the strict control of the RTA, which must cease pretending it’s a council matter, because it’s the RTA which is ultimately responsible for reducing the road toll.
In 2006, the then President of the “more bitumen - more cars faster” NRMA, Alan Evans, said councils had shown they could not be trusted with the power to issue parking fines.
How true. How true.
* Harold Scruby is the Chairman/CEO of the Pedestrian Council of Australia Ltd
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