The naming of Melbourne Airport by the ACCC for suspected gouging of its patrons with parking fee increases — up from $12 for two hours to $18 — highlights the extent the airport will go to raising revenue from motorists.

The fact that this private company generates 21 per cent of its revenue from parking, compared with seven per cent at Sydney Airport, has the ACCC justifiably concerned that Melbourne Airport has been using its monopoly position and regulatory powers to direct traffic to its car parks.

In Melbourne, airport management has basically shut down any parking on any public roads within the airport area — and beyond — to stop drivers from waiting to meet incoming passengers in any place other than their high-priced car parks.

Airport staff, exercising regulatory powers passed on by the state government, secretly take down the number plates of cars alleged to be stationary in these public areas with owners later getting a $110 parking fine in the mail.

That’s an improved margin of close to 10 times more than the sale of a parking space. Nice work if you can get it.

The notice arrives totally out of the blue. Even though you are at the wheel, no-one approaches you and no sticker is put on your car. You just get a letter demanding payment.

You are warned that if you do not pay within 28 days (pretty good terms in any company’s language) the matter will be taken to court where you are liable to penalties of five times the initial amount.

That’s $550 for one parking space on a public road for a few minutes. The margin just gets better and better and the legal fraternity is now getting a cut.

But, in my experience, efforts by airport management to maximise returns on parking are bordering on what many might say is questionable behaviour.

I know about this side of Melbourne Airport’s revenue streams because I received such a notice a week after stopping to look at a directory in a search for the Tiger Airways terminal which is not in the area of the main terminal.

The ground transport administrator pinpointed the scene of the alleged crime as Melrose Drive outside the Europcar holding yard (details included in case you qualify for a refund).

An inspection revealed the No Standing sign in that location was obscured by shrubbery. More important, the red printing on the No Standing sign had faded completely.

I took pictures and suggested in a letter that, aside from Melbourne Airport’s responsibility to ensure the No Standing sign was visible, the sign itself should be in accordance with the Act. Without any red, it was missing vital elements that make it a legitimate No Standing sign.

I have not paid the fine and so far I have heard nothing back from the ground transport administrator although I notice the sign is now brand spanking new! I think we have an admission here.

The question now arises: if the airport has been pulling in revenue in fines on the basis of an authority it did not possess, because the sign was not legal, have they extracted that money illegitimately and are they not bound to return all the fines with interest?

I imagine that would amount to a lot of money given that it takes years for a sign to fade.

Ain’t the business of exercising a monopoly a pain?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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