Parking Fees and Service Terms not Displayed Clearly Hourly Carparks Need Improvement to Avoid Disputes

15 June 2020
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With scarcity in land supply and high vehicle density, carpark spaces in Hong Kong are always on high demand. The Consumer Council visited 40 popular multi-storey carparks in the territory and found that the terms of payment were not clearly stated and the way of display could also cause misunderstandings in some of these carparks. Although promotional offers were available in most of these carparks, drivers should take note that such offers are subject to a vast varieties of conditions, such as minimum spending, means of payment, applicable periods and redemption time, and failure to notice such conditions may lead to loss of privileges and even give rise to disputes. Besides, on-site driving experience of the Council staff concluded that apart from paying attention to the height limits, drivers have to be mindful of the narrow and winding passages and the cramped parking spaces inside the carparks, as well as whether there are indicators showing the number of available parking spaces on each floor.

The Council stresses that there are many improvement areas on the carpark operations, ranging from the parking fees and promotion displayed both online and on-the-spot; the quality of service; to the carpark designs. The Council's survey found that some carparks were able to clearly display the parking fees and offered a reasonable parking space while some inferior carparks should benchmark and improve their services so as to offer consumers a safe and convenient parking service. After the site visits, the Council verified the findings with all the management companies concerned but 14 out of these 40 carparks did not respond, making a mere 65% response rate. 4 carparks declined to respond while 1 carpark solely referred the Council to check on the website of its shopping mall, reflecting that they disappointingly accorded low priority to the quality of customer service.

Parking Fees Not Clearly Displayed and Free Parking has Different Restrictions

The basis of how parking fee is charged varied from one carpark to another.  Some charged it on an hourly basis while others on a half-hourly basis, and some might charge on the basis of a period of time or on a daily basis. Carparks should oblige to display their basis of charging on the rate clearly but among all the carparks surveyed, 11 did not  display the hourly rate outside the premises which was far from satisfactory.  While 21 others showed the hourly rate in the small font size and the poor location of the display boards made it difficult for the drivers to read the charges and terms clearly and accurately. In one of the carparks, it was displayed in a relatively small fonts that the hourly parking rate was $10 but indeed it was only applicable during the non-peak hours between 11pm to 8am on Mondays to Fridays but the normal hourly rate was not presented. Some carparks had the keywords “Charged Half-hourly” only in smaller fonts and such essential information could easily be missed, resulting in the drivers had to pay double of the expected parking fees.

34 carparks (85%) offered free parking to encourage patronage at the corresponding shopping malls.  However, it was worth noting that free parking privileges came with a vast variety of conditions. Some only accepted patronage at designated shops; Eat-in service at particular restaurants; having lunch or dinner; or buying movie tickets while some required patronage during a designated period. The minimum spending amount ranged from $100 to $1500 with 1 to 6 hours of free parking offered in return. 21 carparks required the transactions to be completed with e-payment while 14 carparks only accepted one single receipt in calculating the free parking privilege with one of them requiring a minimum spending of $800. 19 others accepted a combination of 2 receipts while 4 others accepted a combination of 3 or more receipts. Drivers who wish to enjoy free parking are advised to understand the terms and conditions thoroughly before parking; otherwise, they have to spend extra to enjoy the free parking or simply have no choice but to pay the parking fee in full.

28 carparks imposed restrictions on entry, exit and/or redemption periods. Even having reached the required minimum spending, drivers would not be entitled to the complimentary parking privileges should they drive in or make redemption other than during the designated time frame.  Save for the lunch/dinner free parking offers and the MTR Park and Ride Scheme, the earliest entry time for free parking varied from 7am to 10am in 16 carparks but 3 of which failed to publicise such important free parking condition in any public area. Drivers being unaware of such condition might not be able to enjoy free parking if they drove in earlier than the free parking period.

Redemption time is also noteworthy. Among the 34 carparks offering free parking, only 2 shopping malls enabled merchants to process the free parking directly for customers. As for the others, redemptions could only be done at the customers service counters. 21 carparks imposed last redemption time at 10pm to 12am midnight but 4 of them failed to indicate such time limit. Drivers who missed the redemption service hour would eventually fail to enjoy the offer.

None of the carparks surveyed provided the terms and conditions on their own websites. Instead, such information was displayed in very small fonts near the gates. Should these carparks wish to rely on the conditions of use to exonerate their liabilities, they must duly inform the drivers the existence of such important terms to ensure the drivers are aware of all the risks associated with the parking before they drive in. The Council therefore urged the carparks to provide the complete terms on their own websites for drivers’ ease of reference. 

Pay Attention to the Gate Time and Payment Methods

The accuracy of the actual time displayed at the gate is crucial in determining parking fees and complimentary parking. The Council on-site visits revealed that the time displayed at the drive-in gates of 10 carparks were found to lag behind the Standard Time provided by the Hong Kong Observatory by 1 to 3 minutes while that of one carpark was ahead by 1 minute. Likewise, the time clocked at the exit of 8 carparks were found to lag behind by 1 to 2 minutes while those of another two were ahead by 1 minute. Except the case of the gate time is slower, all the other situations would affect the fees to be paid. Thus, carparks were obliged to ensure the accuracy of the time clocked at the gates so that "punctual" drivers would not be made to pay extra parking fees.

14 carparks did not install billboards to show the information when they were full. Drivers who drove in would unnecessarily waste their time and money waiting for parking spaces. On the other hand, another 15 carparks would show the number of available parking spaces at the entrances, of which 10 even indicated the number of vacant spaces on each floor. This was a welcoming move as drivers could have a better idea on where to find a parking space easily.

13 carparks only accepted payment by Octopus but 5 of which did not show this requirement clearly or did not show it at all at the entrances. Drivers might not be aware of this constraint prior to driving in. Another 27 carparks accepted more than one payment method so that if the remaining balance of the Octopus was insufficient, drivers could still have other payment options.

Parking Space Far from Ideal

Taking reference from the photos or video clips posted online by drivers sharing unpleasant experience in carparks, the Council conducted mystery road tests at the carparks and also felt the danger. Height limit is an area that every driver should pay heed to. 7 carparks at shopping malls had a height limit of 1.85 metres and some carparks were notorious for their narrow passages and sharp bends.  There were also narrow parking spaces with a width of 2.1 meters only and drivers of large vehicles should be careful when opening the doors to avoid bumping into the adjacent vehicles. Drivers with poor skills should particularly pay heed to this.

The Consumer Council has publicized cases of carpark-related complaints on many occasions, mostly concerning charging disputes arising from unclear terms of service. The mystery visits confirmed that consumers' dissatisfaction was not unfounded. The Council urges the carparks to strengthen its service orientation and improve their service quality by clearly displaying the parking fees and parking privileges through various channels to enable drivers to make informed choices. 

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