0ops. 1,OOO-plus parking fine refunds ordered after drivers typed 'O' instead of '0'

Inspectors tried to let them off the hook, council managers held firm

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The local council overseeing the core of the Australian city of Melbourne has been told to refund around 1,200 fines that resulted from drivers making a minor typo.

Melbourne is the capital of the State of Victoria, and the ombudsman there probed the matter after someone blew the whistle on unfair parking fines caused by drivers who accidentally entered either a capital "O" or the numeral zero into the PayStay cash-free parking app when their licence plates contained the other character. PayStay allows parking inspectors to check that payments have been made for a parked car.

Entering the wrong characters was not allowed as a valid reason to appeal a parking fine.

The ombudsman found two problems with the fines, the first of which is that the typography used on car number plates issued in Victoria makes it all-but-impossible to distinguish a capital O and a zero. Drivers therefore innocently mistyped their number plates.

The other was that the regulations governing council officers did not allow them discretion to waive the fines.

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The ombudsman's report into the matter found that council management knew that the mistakes were innocent, knew that their employees' hands were tied, and didn't care enough to either let them bend or change the rules.

Thankfully, the investigation did not find that those attitudes were motivated by a desire to increase revenue through parking fines.

As more incidents of confusion emerged, the council cautioned drivers rather than fining them. PayStay weighed in conducting a data-cleansing exercise that saw it mail "approximately 9,000 drivers who had incorrectly entered their registration details to request that they log into their account to check their registration and correct the error."

Once those warnings had been sent, the council resumed fines for the character confusion.

Now the council has not changed its rules to allow parking inspectors discretion to not issue fines based on zero/O confusion, but has made it a valid reason for an appeal against a fine.

The ombudsman is not completely satisfied with that outcome, concluding that the council's parking branch has "still some way to go" towards necessary reforms.

The investigation also recommends the refund of at least 1,200 fines issued due to zero/O confusion. ®

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