When an Australian man was allegedly four minutes late moving his vehicle from a car park in Northbridge, Western Australia, he incurred a A$65 (£40) fine. Outraged that he’d been slapped with a penalty for the difference between 9:17pm and 9:21pm, Perth university student Liam Jones fired off a hilarious, and mathematically and legal sound, letter to the car park operator, Wilson Parking.

What did the notice state?

The notice he received from Wilson stated he needed to pay for ‘liquidated damages,’ which, as he correctly noted, cannot be punitive and can only be used to recoup lost revenue from the space he occupied. The car park was mostly empty that evening, he observed. But if A$65 was the revenue Wilson lost for the four minutes his vehicle overstayed his A$7, 2-hour ticket, “a rough calculation of these liquidated damages might lead one to believe that the cost to administer this parking space is $975 an hour,” he wrote.

Jones took the maths still further: if administering a single parking bay in Northbridge cost A$975 an hour than a 100-space car park in the same area would have a value “comparable to the annual GDP of the Independent State of Samoa,” or more than US$850 million – that’s even more expensive than a 21 year old’s car insurance.

In that case, the A$7 (~£4) he paid for two hours of parking was certainly an act of charity from Wilson Parking. He went as far to search for Wilson Parking on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission website. Failing to find the company listed as a charity, he “conclude[d] that $7 for two hours is a reasonable [the amount he was initially charged] is a reasonable amount to cover the administration of a single parking spot in Northbridge.” $7 for two hours would be enough to allow Wilson to pay for Parking Enforcement Services, meet other expenses, and “make an honest profit on top.”

What calculation did he do?

He used the rate of $7 for 120 minutes to calculate a reasonable parking rate of 5.8c a minute—and from that argued he should only be charged 23.3c for overstaying four minutes. He enclosed his “generous offer of 25c in genuine 20c and 5c denominations from the Royal Australian Mint” in the envelope. Even more generously, he urged Wilson Parking not to send him a cheque for the 1.7c he was due as change.

He shared his outraged letter, and a photograph of it with 25 cents, on Facebook. “Recently I got a ticket after parking at a Wilson Car Park,” he wrote on the social media site. “After paying for two hours, I was ticketed four minutes after it expired. After reading the laws concerning private car parks, it turns out they aren’t allowed to issue fines, they can only attempt to reclaim ‘liquidated damages’.”

His bold, informed offer to Wilson Parking was heralded by Facebook users, many of whom have been similarly ripped off by car parks. His post was liked thousands of times and shared with approval by hundreds.

“I consider our debts to be settled,” Jones, 28, wrote to Wilson Parking in his letter.

What did Wilson Parking think?

Wilson Parking disagreed. They said that Jones was in fact an hour and four minutes to move his vehicle, having only paid for an hour in the car park, and would need to pay up.

WA Today requested a copy of the fine and confirmed that Jones did indeed overstay by an hour and four minutes, meaning that by his own calculations, he owed Wilson another A$3.46.

The back of his ticket does, as Mr. Jones claimed, state that “this is not a fine. The operator is claiming the amount due as liquidated damages as a result of you breaching the parking terms.”

However, Wilson Parking CEO Steve Evans said it was unlikely Mr. Jones would get out of paying the fine. “Our customers enter into an agreement with us when they use our parking facilities,” Evans told news.com.au.

“They are to pay the price of parking for the duration of their stay, and if they do not then they are issued a breach notice as is the practice in car parks globally.