When you talk about inequality or barriers to access for marginalised groups, people are quick to deny that there are any systemic issues at play. Our supposed egalitarian attitude as Aussies means some find it hard to swallow that our systems, policies and processes often drive and entrench inequality.
So when the news came out about the fines ACT drivers can expect if they park a non-electric vehicle in a charging spot (or park an electric vehicle in a charging spot while not charging), my networks were appalled. The maximum fine is up to $3200 for the parking offence. In contrast, if you are caught parking in a disabled parking spot without a valid permit, you’re looking at a $600 fine.
Let’s compare these two figures for a second. The penalty for blocking the use of an electric vehicle charging station is over five times the fine for preventing someone with a disability from accessing parking designed to support them in accessing amenities they need.
It’s a clear example of what our government values or where the blind spots are in our policy development processes.
I’m not disputing that there should be parking fines for taking up charging spaces when you don’t need them, but arguably the impact is greater when you take a disabled parking spot from someone who needs it. For the fine amount to be so drastically different does imply that a higher premium is being placed on deterring the former than the latter.
Do we care five times more about an electric vehicle driver being able to charge their car than we do about a person with a disability safely and comfortably accessing shops and amenities?
It’s easy to look at examples like this and say that the two things aren’t related, that we’re comparing apples and oranges and therefore trying to find an issue where there isn’t one. But these fines show that where there is political will, hefty deterrence measures can be introduced for some behaviours – so why this and not other issues?
The worst part is, as a supporter of taking action to reduce carbon emissions and someone who is in favour of incentivising the uptake of electric vehicles, calling out the discrepancy in these fines feels like I’m detracting from the importance of clean energy initiatives.
But I can’t ignore the fact that this type of policy benefits the small cohort of people who can afford an electric vehicle and want to be charging it in the (mostly central) locations where public charging stations are available. At the same time, disability parking fines affect tens of thousands of people who are dealing with a wide range of accessibility issues on a daily basis and who could really benefit from a stronger deterrence being introduced to prevent people from using their parking spots.
On another level, a $3200 fine amount is pretty drastic – it’s the type of fine that could destroy someone’s finances if they’re on a middle or low income, and seems extreme for the offence itself.
I guess it ultimately comes down to priorities – and on this one, I’m disappointed with the government’s.