THE trouble with imposing broadly based fines of any sort, such as those for parking or traffic infringements, is that a temptation soon arises to treat the income as a given in yearly budgets.
That leads to targets and quotas, which leads to pressure on those responsible for issuing fines, which leads to criticism that the organisation concerned has lost sight of the original reason for introducing the fines and is instead involved in naked revenue-raising.
If that sounds like a description of Newcastle City Council, that’s only because the organisation is so commonly the butt of public complaints about allegedly over-zealous parking fine practices.
Indeed, the council scarcely makes a secret of its expectation of minimum revenue receipts from its squad of compliance officers, although in the same breath it insists its only concerns are safety and support for businesses.
It might be presumed that the city area has now attained such a fearsome reputation as a place to be mercilessly fined that the council is being forced to work harder and cast its net wider to meet its desired revenue targets.
If so, that might explain the heavy and unpopular blitzes around the stadium during big sporting events, and perhaps even the sporadically vigorous activity around the Calvary Mater Hospital.
The council is not alone in its growing reliance on fines to bolster its apparently sick budget.
Other visitor magnets with notoriously poor parking provision are seeing their chance too. Rising stars in the Hunter’s fining stakes are Hunter New England Health and the University of Newcastle.
Parking at John Hunter Hospital is often extraordinary difficult.
That’s why cars are often backed up along Lookout Road and why residents of New Lambton Heights had to lobby for parking restrictions outside their homes.
The university’s case is probably worse, with paid parking permits cynically referred to by their holders as ‘‘hunting licences’’. If anybody cared to quantify the lost productivity due to time spent circling the campus in search of parking spots, the figure would probably be large.
Fines play a part in cutting traffic and maintaining safe practices. Knowing this, few motorists who knowingly park illegally complain.
The clearest indicator that the valuable practical functions of the system may be losing ground to revenue raising is the volume of protest at allegedly unfair penalties. That volume seems loud at present, which should mean something to those in control of the revenue targets.