The spring school fete season is well underway but for at least three events the experience has been spoiled by parking inspectors using number plate recognition to slap fines on unwitting drivers.
The latest blitz hit fete-goers supporting St Thomas the Apostle Primary School in Kambah on 9 November, where 11 people so far have copped fines of $123, mostly for parking on nature strips.
Fete co-coordinator Barb Miels-Barrett says the complaints starting coming in on Friday and she has written to Minister for Regulatory Services Gordon Ramsay and City Services Minister Chris Steel, who ironically performed raffle duty at the fete, calling for the fines to be waived.
She says her school is the third that she knows of to be visited by the now-infamous van and she wonders why an event held once a year on a weekend to raise funds for the community should be a target.
“They don’t come around on a Saturday morning to target anything else but that,” Ms Miels-Barrett said.
“It’s mean-sighted, mean-spirited, it’s not fair, it’s not just, it’s not right.”
She says one person was actually in the car waiting for his elderly mother and another needed to park nearby because of their special-needs child. Others were fete volunteers.
Ms Miels-Barrett acknowledged that people should not park dangerously or cause a problem, but the nature strips are quite wide and safety was not an issue.
The school reported no problems at their fete last year with parking inspectors. The enforcement vans, using plate recognition technology, means fines are automatically generated and can capture many offenders in a short space of time. The lack of human contact through an inspector individually booking vehicles means there’s no discretion around parking fines.
Ms Miels-Barrett believes the Government and inspectors should exercise some discretion for these kinds of events.
“It’s legal but where is it fair and just, when you’re trying to raise funds that you can’t get any other way to help continue as a viable community?” she asked.
She says the technology should make it quite easy to identify the “offenders” and waive the fines.
The parking enforcement van also visited Canberra Grammar and Weetangera Primary School on their fete days.
Shadow Minister for Urban Services Nicole Lawder called the parking blitzes predatory.
“It is wrong to prey on fete-goers as a means of revenue-raising,” she said. “Many fete-goers are volunteers who sacrifice their time to support their local community. It is disrespectful to hit participants with hefty fines if they were parking in a safe and reasonable manner. If it’s safe and not blocking access, why must people be pinged at community events?
“Targeting community events for revenue-raising purposes puts a serious dampener on festivities and may discourage people from getting involved.”
She said the Government should focus on improving designated public parking and fixing the disastrous bus network to give the community viable transport options, rather than resorting to predatory attempts at revenue raising.
An ACT Government spokesperson said that on the weekend 9-10 November, Parking Operations attended a number of school fetes and community events.
At the St Thomas the Apostle fete, 50 vehicles were issued with infringement notices for parking dangerously and illegally, but no illegally parked vehicles were identified at the two other school fetes they attended.
Schools and community groups should ensure they included plans for adequate safe and legal parking around their events to ensure attendees were not put at risk by motorists parking illegally, the spokesperson said.
Access Canberra worked with the Education Directorate to provide information to schools to encourage safe parking during events like fetes.
“Drivers should know that it is their responsibility to park legally at all times. Illegal parking practices result in complaints due to inconvenience for local residents and risks to the safety of road users, especially pedestrians,” the spokesperson said.
“This includes blocking pedestrian access and impacting pedestrian safety for vulnerable Canberrans like children and those with a disability, all motorists should park legally at all times so as not to incur an infringement.”
The spokesperson said that when using Licence Plate Recognition (LPR), a parking inspector must assess the individual circumstances of each vehicle before an infringement is issued.
“The LPR team assess issues and gather evidence as they use LPR technology, and review all identified issues after returning to base. If found to be an instance of dangerous and illegal parking, an infringement is issued,” the spokesperson said.
School groups could apply for temporary traffic management permits so there can be a safe outcome when there are limited on-street parking options in their area.
Access Canberra’s event support: https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/app/answers/detail/a_id/2200/kw/traffic%20plan%20event.