I remember the morning well. The 6th of June, 2020. It was a Saturday.
I’d woken up after a long night working on my podcast CHILDERS – The Full Story. I needed coffee. Real coffee. Something strong with some serious teeth about it.
I’ve got one of those pod machines on the kitchen bench which serves me well. But the struggle was real. It was time to break the cycle of lockdown self-sufficiency with a barista blend.
There’s a café just a couple of blocks up the road and it was a beautiful, crisp, sunny day. So off I went. The fresh air was just as medicinal as the double espresso awaiting me.
I’m halfway there when I spot a City of Sydney parking inspector in a nearby street. She’s heading my way so I wait for her. We walk and talk. I’m seeking clarity on a conversation I’d had a few times over the phone in previous weeks.
You see, my parking permit had expired. A day before, in late May, I called the Council to enquire about my options. It took forever but eventually I was told, because of COVID-19 restrictions, my local library was closed and to renew it in person there was only one option available to me – at the Town Hall office in Sydney’s CBD. It was a rainy day. I had work to do. So that wasn’t too appealing. It also didn’t sound like accurate information. So I held off.
The next day – permit expiry day – I called again. This time, I got the news I suspected. Nothing, anywhere, was open to renew it in person and an online application was my only option. Fair enough.
But on both occasions, those conversations came with an asterix of sorts.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions and service desk closures, there was a grace period being applied. Provided you had an “area relevant” permit displayed, if it was expired, Council wouldn’t be booking vehicles until July the 1st.
I was told this TWO DAYS IN A ROW.
So, after registering for an online account with the Council, I applied for my permit the following day. It then goes through a process of eligibility. I get the notification that I’ve passed and details of how I go about paying for it.
I did that on the afternoon of the 4th of June. That was a Thursday. $61 thank you very much. City of Sydney sent me the receipt via email almost immediately. My parking permit was on its way. I was told it could take up to two weeks to arrive.
Two days later, on my morning stroll to the café, I engaged in some small talk with the parking inspector I’d seen and raised the grace period with her.
She assured me that was the directive and any expired but relevant area permit would be considered as current until July 1. All good. Permit is on the way. I’ve even got the receipt.
A few days later, mid-morning while I’m working from home, a fire alarm goes off at my apartment complex. I follow the evacuation procedure and head out the front of the building. As I’m waiting for the all-clear to go back in, I notice something under the windscreen wiper of my car.
It’s a parking ticket, dated the 7th of June. The day after I’d spoken to that parking inspector in the neighbourhood. And yes. The car hasn’t been getting used much lately!
I must admit, I wasn’t worried at all. I’d done what I needed to do. I’d had assurances of the grace period on three occasions. I’d even bought a new parking permit and had the receipt to prove it. These are strange times. COVID-19 and all. Some common sense would see to a quick reversal and things would sort themselves out.
It was annoying though. We were in the middle of some major campaign initiatives with work and I was putting together my podcast series after hours. Outside of that, my mental energy was running on fumes. The hassle of lodging a written appeal wasn’t a task I needed right now.
Nonetheless, I went through the process a filed the appeal against the “infringement”.
Just over two weeks goes by.
Now, with the podcast series, I was releasing new episodes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So I was sitting up until just past midnight to upload them so they would hit all the relevant platforms by breakfast.
I was online at 12:18am, putting the finishing touches to Episode 15, when an email arrived.
“We write in response to your request for review of Penalty …”
Then the verdict.
“We considered the circumstances you presented.”
“Our investigations conclude the penalty still applies.” Quite the investigation.
Stunned. Despite all the assurances. Despite the directive. Despite having actually purchased a parking permit that I wasn’t able to take possession of because of Council’s own office closures, ”the penalty still applies”.
The letter went on to remind me that I must abide by signposting and even if I can’t see the signpost, I “must locate the relevant parking sign and comply with the restrictions”.
Thanks for that.
I put a call in to Council. They can’t give me anything in writing to support their permit grace period. They told me to call Service NSW.
When I eventually got through, Service NSW told me my best option was to call Council and get something in writing. The circle. Vicious. Barring that, my only option was to go to court.
At least in the email I was sent with the appeal outcome, it included this:
“We know many of our customers are impacted by COVID-19. If you are experiencing financial difficulty, we may be able to help.”
Seems you can’t.
Surely, we can do better than this. Especially at times like these.