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An Open Letter to the Minister of Transport

An Open Letter to the Minister of Transport

19 December 2010

Dear Minister Joyce,

New Zealand is one of the best destinations in the world, with a glowing reputation for intelligence, humanitarianism and open, democratic government.

Imagine my shock in discovering how misplaced this reputation is during the unconscionably short period given to us to fight for the public’s right to free vehicle data held by the government.

I thought you may be interested in the timelines you have given us; it’s hard for me to tell if you know them already, as you have not replied to any of the over 4,500 emails you have been sent by the public.

May 2010 : The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) communicate the possibility that some data, which is currently free, will be charged for, around November 2010.

May 2010 onwards : Throughout the year Carjam begin what will be continuous requests to ask for more details but those details are not forthcoming; not even a date when we would get those details!

September 13th 2010 :NZTA announce that changes to both the Motor Vehicle Register (MVR) technology and to the privacy legislation are being deferred until April 2011 which we presume, but cannot confirm, means the fee change as well. We did receive a response whereby we are reassured that at the appropriate time all stakeholders, including us, will be included in the discussions surrounding these changes. However, rather surprisingly, this simply does not happen.


November 5th 2010 : We receive the bombshell that the changes are going to be implemented on January 1st 2011 and the cost of free data will be increased to 16c per query. As far as the NZTA are concerned, it’s a done deal.

November 15th 2010 : Our lawyer sends through an Official Information Act (“OIA”) request asking for a breakdown of the 16c figure the NZTA has set and under what authorities the fee change is being made if not prescribed in regulations.

Dec 2nd 2010 : We remind the NZTA that we haven't yet received even an acknowledgment letter. In response, we then receive the official line that an OIA request will be responded to within 20 working days, or more if required.

Dec 15th 2010 : Parliament goes into recess. 4,500 personal emails and a petition with over 23,000 signatures means very little to our government. The public is quietly, but absolutely, ignored.

Dec 20th : The NZTA finally respond to the OIA request … telling us they will require another 3 additional days and we should expect the response on Thursday. Jan 1st 2011 Free access to MVR basic facts including odometer history, make, model, imported damaged, stolen status will go away, as will the rights of NZ consumers.

As far as we can tell, and from what we have now heard, in April 2011 those same free requests that you are taking away i.e. stolen flag, make and model - are going to mysteriously return again (!?!), forcing us to completely redesign and rebuild the site twice in less than 4 months.

I have often wondered whether you have considered the effect your decision is going to have on the public, many of whom put you in office. We have. We had strongly considered an "NZTA Day of Action", effectively shutting down Carjam's public interface and watching the ensuing chaos as thousands of people simultaneously and continuously called the MoT and the NZTA to request their car information. Insurance and finance agencies, parts shops and mechanics trying to help their customers, and many other businesses who use Carjam would panic as the service they have come to rely upon came crashing to an end. Many of these businesses are the ones who freely supply you with your information that you now want to sell back to the public. But we elected not to take this action, as the simple truth is that unlike you, Minister Joyce, and seemingly the NZTA, we actually do have the public's interests genuinely at heart.

Looking back over the past seven months, maybe we should have played more hardball - maybe playing nice with you and the NZTA all year has been naive of us. Quite frankly we never saw this coming; the disgraceful abuse of power and process which has been inherent in the plans and timelines which I have outlined above. It’s truly shameful that the New Zealand government is letting this happen.

I wonder how many single issues have managed to generate this level of protest yet are simply ignored in this high-handed and careless fashion? How on earth can you take something away arbitrarily for a matter of months, ignore the public so absolutely and all with no explanation or discussion? And suddenly allow free access to the database for this one kind of query (“Stolen status”) again in April when you have been so resolute about the fact that a database query costs 16c?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Yours (baffled and bemused by these changes),

Paul & Anton @ Carjam Online Limited (oh yes, almost forgot. The New Zealand Motoring Public and the Automotive Industry also say ‘hi’ and ‘why?’)


© Scoop Media

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