Inner West Independent

Council picks a fight on credit

Free parking: fines are waived if a machine won't accept your credit card. Photo: Michael Koziol

Motorists could benefit from free parking if Leichhardt Council fails to upgrade its parking metres to comply with the latest credit card technology.

The council claims it is being pressured by credit card companies Visa and MasterCard into upgrading 139 parking meters across the council area at a cost of more than $450,000.

Leichhardt parking meters, of which the majority were installed by Australian Parking and Revenue Control (APARC), currently use the magnetic strip on credit cards instead of the chip. Visa and MasterCard, along with European card provider Europay, are attempting to standardise the use of the chip.

“Visa is moving from magstripe to EMV chip technology as part of a broader security plan announced in 2009,” said Judy Shaw, Head of Corporate Relations for Visa in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

“All businesses across Australia have been making the upgrade and about 95 per cent of terminals are now chip.”

According to an article on APARC’s website, “councils that operate non-EMV compliant meters will be liable for any losses incurred in the event that an EMV chip card is used at a non-EMV-capable terminal, and the resulting transaction is determined to be counterfeit fraud. In addition, if a consumer receives an infringement for an overstay or non-payment, legally they do not have to pay it.”

In a draft letter to the Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne said there was no other viable choice for maintaining credit card-compatible parking meters.

“The only alternate option is to close the credit card reader slot to allow ‘coin only’ use which is a backward step from a revenue and user perspective,” the letter stated.

“The card schemes are using this power to pass on costs to Councils and others, and the ACCC may also deem this behaviour to be ‘unconscionable conduct’.”

Under Australian Consumer Laws businesses cannot engage in unconscionable conduct, and may face fines or have contracts voided if they do so. The practice does not have an exact legal definition but according to the ACCC it can involve “the use of undue influence, pressure or unfair tactics by the stronger party”.

Leichhardt Council awarded the contract to APARC to install the parking meters in 2010.

The neighbouring City of Sydney Council, which has more than a thousand parking meters, will not be fighting the changes. According to a committee report from December of last year, the deadline for all City of Sydney parking meters to be EMV-compliant is April of this year. The same report also details the upgrading of some 250 machines.

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