Private car park bill passes

In a big win for consumers, the NSW Parliament has passed legislation that prevents private car park operators from gaining access to motorists’ personal information to send out demands for payment.

The bill was introduced in the NSW Parliament in late October this year and is designed to prevent the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) from being forced by courts to disclose personal information if it’s for the purpose of collecting private car park fines.

In September CHOICE published an investigation into the growing trend of car park operators concentrating more on issuing fines than collecting fees, and resorting to a variety of dodgy tactics to separate consumers from their money.

One key finding of our investigation was that private car parks don’t have the authority to issue fines in the first place. Some have taken to calling them “liquidated damages”, on the flimsy premise that motorists have entered a contract by using the car park. In any case, the damages that are demanded, up to $170 or more, far exceed any loss to the car park.

We also uncovered strong links between some car park operators and collection agencies, suggesting that the car park business model is built around duping motorists into incurring “fines” rather than being up front about how long you can park for free and when the charges start.

In introducing the bill NSW Minister for Roads and Ports, Duncan Gay, said some private car park operators are serial abusers of the preliminary discovery process through which the RMS had previously been obliged to release driver details.

Instead of using the process to mount a potential court prosecution, operators have been using it “to support a business model of posting mass demands to customers and relying on a proportion of them paying”.

The threat of legal action in collection notices is little more than a scare tactic. As of mid-September, courts had ordered the release of more than 150,000 names from the RMS, yet attempted prosecutions for unpaid “fines” have occurred in less than one per cent of cases, according to Gay.