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Notes from Big Ben …

Can VPS Deliver the Goods?

By Peter Guest

Here in the UK, one of the most intractable problems facing municipal parking managers is how to deal with the loading and servicing neåeds in our towns and cities. In many places, the streets are still based on medieval tracks and paths, perhaps overlaid here and there with an occasional Roman street pattern.
But when it comes to deliveries, the streets are seldom up to accommodating the needs of modern businesses. For sure, newer shopping developments have off-street loading and service bays, but for most main business streets and town centers, loading will be done off the street in front of the store. Add to this the fact that that street is also the main road in the town and a bus route, and you see the problem.
It was bad enough when companies used vans; now the delivery is likely to be coming out of a regional distribution depot and arriving in a six-axle 38-ton articulated truck that will virtually block the road. In some places in Holland, they simplified the process: The vehicle has to be less than 10 tons and deliveries have to be clear by 10 a.m. That works for them, but here in the UK, with complex multi-drop schedules and timed deliveries, it would never happen.
Our laws allow loading bays to minimize blockages, but car drivers don’t understand them, and a delivery will often turn up to find the loading bay full of cars, leaving the driver with little choice but to block the road. My daughter manages a store in a nearby town, and this is a regular problem.
The quandary often facing the enforcement officer is that although they see the delivery truck, they may not see any action, and all too frequently, it seems, they will write a ticket and keep going.
Loading/deliveries are far from straightforward. A courier faced with delivering a package into a specific office in a large building may well lock his van and be away for 10 to 15 minutes while they track down the recipient. But to the person watching the van, it’s illegally parked and no loading is taking place.
Similarly, the 38-ton truck parked outside a store may well be seen to be unloading, but the rules may not give enough time to get the stuff off the truck, checked and signed for. The result is that every year thousands of tickets get written for vehicles that are undertaking necessary work to keep the economy turning. A lot of the time the distribution companies see this as a cost of doing business and simply pay the tickets.
However, as margins are increasingly squeezed, companies are challenging the tickets, creating increased work for the city. The truckers may get more tickets canceled, but this is not addressing the fundamental problem: how to manage the legitimate delivery needs of in-town businesses without the infrastructure to handle these off the main commercial streets.
At long last, however, it looks like a solution may have arrived. ACTIV8 VPS, a virtual parking permit system, has been developed by Neil Herron, who is well-known in the UK as a campaigner against some of the excesses of municipal parking operations.
Its concept is basically very simple: Companies that want to make a delivery in a restricted area at a restricted time send a request to a central bureau. The request sets out the date, time and location where the delivery is required, and identifies the registration of the vehicle that will make the delivery. The request is processed, and assuming that the delivery can be permitted, the bureau sends back a formal approval and creates a “virtual” on-street loading bay.
The truck driver gets an approval via an on-board PDA, which shows the exact location of the permitted loading and gives a route into the location via a satellite navigation function. The system also sends a notification to the on-street enforcement staff via their handheld units (which need to be online) so that when they see the delivery vehicle, they know it has a waiver for a specific place and time. The system also confirms the booking to the operating company so that it knows that they got what they paid for.
So far, the ACTIV8 system is being tested in the city of Westminster, and early results look promising. One operator that delivers food into the capital has reported an annual £350,000 (about $560,000) reduction in parking fines. If the system rolls out successfully nationwide, there could be a massive reduction in fleet operating costs and a lowering of the temperature in the conflict between the companies that service our cities and the people who try to manage the streets.
So what could be the downside? First, of course, is the risk that when the truck turns up, someone else is parked in the designated slot and so the “authorized” vehicle parks some 25 yards down the road. When the parking enforcement officer turns up, the original obstructing vehicle may have left, and the officer mistakenly tickets the “authorized” vehicle for parking “out of bay,” not realizing what has happened.
A bit of discretion will help here, but parking systems work best when the people on the street enforce what they see and when discretion is applied subsequently when all the facts can be considered. This scenario isn’t likely to happen often, but I can foresee more of a problem in getting the public to understand and appreciate what the virtual parking permit system is and how it works.
Consider the guy who sees a 38-ton truck in a no-parking area off-loading stuff into a shop. He pulls up behind to go into the same shop to load a heavy box into his car. The guy comes out to find the parking enforcement officer writing him a ticket but ignoring the truck.
The finer points of loading laws and waivers are going to lost on him. “It’s not fair” will be the cry, probably taken up by the local media.
Peter Guest is Parking Today’s correspondent for all things British and European. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from March, 2011




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