More than one thousand Melbourne motorists will have their parking fines refunded after they made typos while using the city’s parking meters.
Victoria’s Ombudsman has found the City of Melbourne took an “overly rigid” approach against drivers who innocently confused the letter ‘O’ with the zero when entering their registration on the PayStay apps.
"The council knew the number 0 and letter O were virtually indistinguishable on registration plates, and drivers would not be aware they had made an error," Ombudsman Deborah Glass said on Wednesday.
It was determined over 1200 drivers made the mistake, with the City of Melbourne agreeing to refund drivers the $83 they were penalised.
Council will also review all PayStay fines issued in the 12 months to July 1, 2018, as well as those between November 2018 and October last year.
Ms Glass noted the allegation the council was issuing the fines as a form of raising revenue was “not substantiated”.
“The council was losing money taking these matters to court, although the practical outcome of inflexible decision making undoubtedly made a not unhealthy contribution to the Council’s bottom line,” she noted in the report.
“These actions were apparently driven by an entrenched, overzealous attitude of some in senior management in the parking branch, a mindset that the customer is usually wrong and drivers must be punished for their infractions, no matter how small the offence or how great the mitigation.”
The attitude was cause of concern for some council officers, who raised the issue with management.
Ms Glass also said the mindset was illustrated further when council reworded the Penalty Reminder Notice, which encouraged drivers to make the payments as soon as possible, which was misleading.
The report concluded while it did not expose improper conduct, it did highlight the “worryingly poor understanding by some in senior management of basic principles of fairness”.
“The council has not shirked its responsibility for years of unfair decisions and has agreed to make amends, both on an individual and systemic level,” the report said.
Issues were addressed during the Ombudsman’s investigation and Ms Glass commended the response from council, and said she hoped the report serve as a reminder to “exercise discretion of the need to keep fairness at its heart”.
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