One of Australia’s biggest councils has been accused of an "unnecessary" plan to help them fine unwitting drivers several times for the same offence.
Aussie drivers are never pleased when they come back to their cars and see a fine has been slipped under the windshield. But what's even more frustrating is the shift to "invisible fines" - where the penalty arrives in the mail weeks after the offence.
Firstly, it holds back accountability for motorists who instantly realise they've done the wrong thing but, perhaps more importantly for the hip pocket, it means you're robbed of the chance to collect proper evidence to contest the fine.
Brisbane City Council can currently issue fines by mail but are forced under state law to issue a paper ticket if they want to continue to fine a driver for overstaying a parking limit.
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The council has called on the Queensland government to scrap the need for a physical ticket altogether, closing that paper ticket loophole.
So, if you’ve spent four hours in a one-hour spot, parking rangers could continue to go back and slap you with fine after fine until you move your car. But you'd have no idea.
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What is an invisible fine and why are they so 'problematic'?
Like in Brisbane over the past year, dozens of councils in New South Wales have adopted the practice of mailing out tickets, rather than issuing on-the-spot fines. In some cases, people don’t receive them until weeks later.
While they’ve been deemed more environmentally friendly, or better for enforcement officers who face abuse, there are issues with not receiving a fine on your windscreen.
The first is whether that fine has been issued correctly or if you had a justifiable reason like a broken machine.
'Transparency': Robbing you of the chance to collect evidence
The NRMA’s Peter Khoury described the “problematic and unnecessary” paperless move as a lack of transparency between councils’ fine-enforcement programs and drivers, who were unable to fight back when slapped with a fine they didn’t deserve.
“There might be a tree covering the sign, or inadequate signage but you don’t know that you need to collect that information unless you’ve been fined on the spot,” Khoury told Yahoo Finance.
“Half the time, drivers don’t even remember being there when they get a fine later, let alone the circumstance. So, in these instances, when there’s a legitimate reason to contest, they needed to know then and there so they could collate that information.”
On-the-spot fines force accountability
In the case of overstaying parking limits, like the proposal in Brisbane, physical fines can serve as reminders to people unknowingly doing the wrong thing.
Sydneysider Luke Burgess had no clue he was being fined because it took weeks for his first infringement notice to come in the mail and, unbeknownst to him, he managed to rack up four others, totalling $750 in that time.
"I copped it on the chin and thought maybe it's not the right thing to do and stopped parking there but, within the time period it took to receive the notification, I continued to receive more parking fines," he told 9News.
Burgess claimed he didn’t know he was parking illegally at the train station because “everyone normally does it”. He acknowledged his error but was blown away that he wasn’t given a chance to change his ways to avoid further penalty.
'Terrible' signage: Motorists can push back
Slapping a motorist with repeat fines could have huge financial ramifications for someone who may have been innocently checking back and thinking there was no issue because there was no fine.
Some signage can also be flat-out illegible, which is a legitimate reason to appeal - if you have evidence.
Khoury said signage in NSW was particularly “terrible”, but on-the-spot fines gave motorists a chance to identify these issues and take photographic evidence.
“We see time and time again social media swamped with pictures of signs that simply don’t make sense. It’s quite staggering,” he said.
Why don't I get a fine on my windscreen?
Councils have justified the use of paperless tickets to reduce instances of them being damaged or lost in bad weather, as well as reducing abuse of enforcement officers.
“Parking officers need to make the effort and understand their job may not be a popular one but it’s important,” Khoury said.
“There’s no justification for anyone in the community becoming verbal to a parking officer but we still want there to be that transparency element and that’s what you get with on-the-spot fines.”
Those who overstay a time limit without reasonable cause, don’t pay the meter, or park illegally deserve to be booked to ensure more people have fair access to already-stretched parking, Khoury added.
Brisbane Council told Yahoo Finance reducing parking offences helped local businesses and argued that, with technological evolution, paper tickets had become “increasingly unnecessary”.
Ensuring the turnover of parking spaces helps local businesses. Discouraging people from parking in clearways is important because this behaviour can cause significant disruptions for thousands of other motorists.
Other councils, like Sydney’s Waverley Council, have flat-out rejected paperless tickets because the model was deemed unfair, with drivers less likely to learn from their mistakes.
“If a motorist does not see an infringement on their vehicle, they will not be aware they have done anything wrong and may continue to offend and incur multiple infringements before they receive the first one in the mail,” a Waverley Council spokesperson said.
If there are issues with mail-out times, drivers can have less time to pay, contest or access hardship options.
Parking for longer than permitted made up almost 3,000 of the 39,828 complaints Brisbane Council received in regards to illegal parking in the last financial year, with parking fines racking up $30,588,567 in revenue.
Parking on the footpath represented the most-complained-about act, followed by driveways being blocked and people being parked in No Standing zones.
Brisbane Council's motion for the government to change requirements for a paper ticket passed unanimously at the Local Government Association of Queensland's annual conference.
The Department of Transport and Main Roads told Yahoo Finance a request for a legislative change had not yet been received.
"Once received, it will be fully considered," a spokesperson said.