Wade Gregory is a working muso. He’s not unfamiliar with hauling a big-arse keyboard in and out of the city. A while ago, with a Saturday night gig on at the Metro Arts Centre in Edward Street, he opted to spend a bit of the folding stuff on an off street car park.
“On-street parking is a lottery,” he says. “All those 19-year-old bogans going to the Vic need somewhere to park, right? They get into messy fights at cab ranks. Can’t have that.”
So fuggedabouddit. Gregory figured to drop a few dollars on the problem and avoid the hassle. There’s a new secure parking place not far from the gig. He drives in, doesn't see any parking attendants or any booths, and he think to himself it's one of these new automated places.
I’ll let him tell his own story now.
“So I arrive back at ten minutes past ten o'clock: an early night in the city, but I was heading out to the Valley to support some more live music. Luckily I had borrowed my friend's keyboard for the night and so the gear I was lugging was lighter than usual. I say luckily because the massive big garage door was slammed shut. At 10.10pm on a Saturday night. In ol' Bris Vegas. There was another chap standing around with his girlfriend, looking just as dumbfounded as I. The exit fee, I presume to get some overweight security guard to come down and press a button, was something like $50, or I could come back in the morning and pay for two days parking (which turned out to be cheaper).
“I went to see where they advertised their opening times There was nothing on the street, no A-frame display, no electronic sign like QPAC's that says "closing midnight". The only place they revealed their closing time was in small print as you entered. When you collect your ticket at the boom gate, you have to lean out of your window slightly and peer down at a sign: it had all the parking charges, and then in smaller print below that, their opening hours.
“As if that wasn't bad enough: the next morning I caught the bus into town to collect my car. Like I said, it was a fully automated carpark so I inserted my ticket into the pay station. It wouldn't read my ticket, but instead displayed an error message. So I had to use the intercom to speak to someone (I assume in Sydney) and explain how frustrated I was. He pressed a few buttons remotely and I was able to feed in my hard-earned into the machine. Then as I went to drive out, I put the ticket in the machine at the boom gate. Yet again, ticket read failure. I smashed the intercom button, explained to the same guy that I had already paid my bloody ticket, and I was outta there.”
Fast forward and you’ll find Daniel Knight in a similar bind. He’d worked late and headed to car park to discover the automated machine was on the blink.
“No problem,” says Daniel, “there is another machine, and I headed over to the long line to pay for my ticket at this secondary unit. It was then I noticed a long line of cars backing out from the exit. I paid and headed to my car on the rooftop. I park on the roof as a matter of choice… I enjoy the view and brief wind on my face… it’s a small freedom but one I enjoy choosing.”
Knight drove down the ramps until he reached the tail of the exit line, at which point it took just under another hour to clear through.
“The reason became apparent when I got to the gate. Because of the time it had taken me to get to there, additional charges had been placed on my ticket – $35 I believe from memory– and I was being asked by the machine to make this extra payment before I exited.”
He was just the last of a long line of suckers getting bent over the same barrel.
You can understand their anger, but it can get worse, much worse.
If you are woman, working late and alone and for whatever reason your car park features broken ticket machines, surly off-site staff, and an exciting array of poorly advertised penalty charges, you can find yourself in a bad place very quickly.
Twice now recently I’ve come across stories of women trapped in multi-level car parks because the cheap ratbastard greedheads who run these aesthetically worthless money traps can’t be arsed putting on staff. The machines constantly malfunction and when a frustrated, or traumatized customer complains the only option they’re left with is pay extra now, or pay extra later. Or I suppose you could follow the example of one woman who had curled up into a ball under the torrent of abuse directed at her by some slug in a remote facility, most likely in Sydney.
It’s a situation that’s snuck up on a lot of city workers the last couple of years, as the super rich owners of these car parks have looked for every opportunity to pare back their outlays while squeezing ever more profits out of the public. The really sneaky part of closing the doors and charging people extra to leave is that most of these places are now unstaffed and there's no reason they couldn't be open 24/7. But shutting them down and charging some mug fifty bucks to press a button is a great little earner, innit?
Unfortunately, it’s going to end in a woman disappearing from one of these dumps and turning up in a shallow grave a few miles outside of the city.
I’m just pointing this out now so that when it happens, and it will, these scumbags can’t say they weren’t warned.