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New off-street parking app downloads were ‘defaulting’ to accept hidden charges

Call to rescind all fines and remove “stealth” charges after issues reported within a day of new parking enforcement system

The new on-street parking system has been called into question by one NI Council, with members noting issues with the payment App leading to alleged double-charging, hidden costs and fines.

The RingGo app has been introduced by a number of NI Councils – including Armagh, Banbridge, and Craigavon – at the beginning of this month.

The matter was raised by SDLP Councillor Adam Gannon at Fermanagh and Omagh District Council who told members: “A lot of people have been affected by changes in off-street car parking which is a totally unsatisfactory state of the parking app provided by the new company.

“From personal experience, I agree with the vast majority of public opinion. Registration was difficult. It was full of flaws and technical issues. People have got tickets even though they did the right thing to register for parking. I would say the app’s technical faults have potentially resulted in many tickets which should not have been given. It’s totally unjustified and unfair for the public to have to pay them.

In addition, Councillor Gannon was: “Shocked and appalled at what I can only describe as hidden charges, which in some cases more than doubled the cost. I know it’s maybe only 40p doubled but it’s the principle.”

He said extra charges were not explained at any stage in the registration process including the option to have a text reminder around when the parking ticket would be expiring.

“There was no indication of additional charges and a lot of the public have been caught out. Some said the company are behaving like scam artists trying to con people out of their money. It is disgraceful that charges are not clear. It’s also ludicrous they are charging a convenience fee for using the App and one constituent who has a disability felt it was discriminatory as they find it difficult to get to the pay-in for cash. Yet they are being charged extra for using the app. It’s not a convenience for someone disabled and in pain.”

Councillor Gannon added: “We as councillors were not presented the full details of this because it was a collaborative tender held by Belfast City Council to eight councils. I’m not pointing the finger at our officials who believed Belfast City Council would do the job properly, but I feel they didn’t do due diligence. However, I accept that may not to be matter for public discussion due to legal implications.”

He proposed all fines imposed since the introduction of the App should be overturned and those which have been paid are refunded and all fines should be suspended until a solution is found.

The contract should also be examined to establish if there is scope for change and: “We should write to the scheme provider requesting all these stealth charges and the convenience fee is removed with immediate effect,” added Councillor Gannon.

The council solicitor advised members the tender process has been completed although it is standard to have some form of dispute resolution if issues have arisen, and it would only be through fundamental breach that a contract could be terminated.

Chair Councillor Thomas O’Reilly understood attempts have been made to look at “some corrections or helpful additions”.

Director of Director of Environment and Place John News said concerns first came to light on April 4, which was the day after the enforcement period commenced.

“Within 24 we were in contact with the provider. The contractual arrangement is between the council and the provider and if they have their own contractual relationship with the App provider, it’s up to them. The provider made the decision which App to use.”

He said the provider confirmed at the time of reporting the App downloads were “defaulting” to accepting those additional charges, however, that has since been re-set.

“The default position is now users make a conscious decision to opt into receipt of tests, starting or concluding a parking action and to have a summary after the charge is applied.”

In terms of the convenience fee Mr News said this is a transaction charge which every other council has passed onto end users, and until the end of March this year Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has absorbed this.

“When the new contract commenced and as part of the Rates Estimate process, it was decided to pass this to the end user.”

He pointed out that the actual parking rates remain the same as before although the balance increase is made up of two text messages of 15p each plus a transaction charge of 10p – bringing what would have been a 50p parking fee to 90p.

The charges are levied by the app provider not the enforcer and “certainty not coming back to council. That point has now been resolved as users will have to opt in”.

Mr News also confirmed a technical issue had arisen around the mapping of a number of Enniskillen carparks attendants’ hand-held devices were registering an infringement, but this too has been resolved.

The provider has advised there is an appeal mechanism for anyone given a parking ticket if they believe it has been issued inappropriately.

Mr. News said anyone in this position should appeal and if it was a result of technical failings the ticket will be cancelled.

Welcoming the changes Alliance Councillor Eddie Roofe suggested a “grace period from fines due to the errors we’ve seen”.

“It’s clear there are faults, and it would be an act of goodwill by the provider. I’m hopeful this is just teething issues.”

However, he added: “We still haven’t received proper details on the tender process and I’d like to see some evidence of the other bids.”

Final speaker Councillor Noeleen Hayes, Sinn Féin suggested contacting the other seven councils under the contact “to see if they are having similar problems”.

All proposals passed unanimously.

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