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Big Ben

Major Booting Change, More Haste, Less Speed

Peter Guest

Twenty-four hours to go and nothing – my brain’s a complete blank. There must be something worth writing about before JVH starts sending the threatening messages. I knew it was a mistake to go away for a break. I blame it on she-who-must-be-obeyed; it was her idea.

The clock’s ticking, and I have to think of something. Help!

It’s only the law

Some laws changed in the UK on Oct. 3, and I suspect that the consequences of this will take some time to sort themselves out. Here’s the story.

Per a section in the ridiculously named Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, it’s now a criminal offense to boot a car on private land.

We in the UK have had a long and wholly discreditable period of about 20 years where some extremely unsavory characters have operated so-called parking management companies and used a weakness in the law to boot vehicles in all sorts of circumstances, and then demand exorbitant sums of money to let the vehicle go.

The track record has included police cars dealing with a break-in, ambulances helping a patient, disabled people who are bullied to part with large sums of money, and doctors who have stopped to help at an accident.

In Scotland, the courts got on to this quickly and declared booting demanding money with menaces and outlawed it. In the rest of Britain, various governments “havered” and prevaricated, creating a system of licensing for the booting staff, but never addressing the key issue of how clamping was managed and the fees that could be charged.

Now to be clear, there is a problem with people who abuse private car parking, and some of the parking management companies operate to high standards following a clear code of practice and behave responsibly.

Unfortunately, a susceptible minister and a rabble-rousing newspaper campaign, long on rhetoric and short on facts, led to the change in the law, removing at a stroke a necessary protection from many landowners to eliminate the bad apples.

The same law now allows the same parking companies – provided they join “an Accredited Trade Association” and sign up to a code of practice – to issue parking tickets and collect the ticket fee through

the courts.

Now here is the cunning bit: The “offense” is committed by the driver, but the only way to follow up the ticket is via the DVLA records (same as the DMV to you guys). So the new law says that, if the driver can’t be identified, the company can collect the money from the vehicle owner.

I think that this will be the first law in the UK where one person can be held liable for another’s debt, without ever being a party to the action where the debt was incurred. I can see the human rights people having a field day with that one.

How well will this work? Well, if current experience is anything to go by, there’s a storm coming.

Take Linsey Salter, who got a $75 fine for overstaying in a local shopping center carpark that used camera-based enforcement. The company uses LPR systems to read the number plates of vehicles entering and leaving the site, and if they stay too long, they get a ticket in the post.

Only problem was, Mrs. Salter hadn’t stayed too long.

She went in in the morning for about 15 minutes and then returned later that day, with plenty of witnesses to confirm that, in the interim, she and her car had been elsewhere.

Did the company admit it had made a mistake and apologize? Did they, hell. They canceled the ticket “as a gesture of goodwill.” Just once, guys, try using the “S” word – you know the one: “Sorry.”

Is this a good idea? I wonder

Breckland Council’s area is one of those pleasant rural locations in East Anglia. At just over 1,300 square kilometres it’s the biggest council by area and contains five reasonably sized market towns and about 100 other small settlements, often with less than 500 souls in each village.

Parking is free to use but costs about half a million dollars a year to provide, and this is a problem. Our government-of-none-of-the-talents wants the council to cut spending by more than $4M by 2016, and the councillors have to make some difficult decisions.

One option, of course, would be to start charging for parking, but rather than simply bite this particular bullet, the councillors have put the decision on what to do back to the public, holding a series of public meetings at which local voters are presented with the reality of having to save the money and asked to choose what should be cut and what should be charged for.

This exercise, which includes an online survey, asks voters to make choices between things as diverse as charging for parking, increasing local taxes, rat catchers and grass-cutting, and support for the local film and book festivals.

OK, it’s a major exercise in democracy, it could be said, but councillors aren’t delegates – they are representatives. They stand for election and then have the job of governing and are held accountable for how well or badly they do.

What do they do if no one wants to change anything – a more than likely outcome – and no change is not an option? Take soundings, by all means, but such an extensive exercise creates the impression that the councillors are ducking the issues.

Oops

Meanwhile, back in Abu Dhabi, UAE, things haven’t quite gone to plan in one of the new housing developments. The city is growing at an astonishing rate, with whole new communities being developed and properties popping up in areas that seemed to be desert just a few months before.

Living in the UK, where any significant new infrastructure can take a decade, I am always impressed by the speed with which this go-ahead country is able to grow, but just sometimes I wonder if “more haste, less speed” is an issue.

This might indeed be the case at the Al Rayanna residential complex in Khalifa City where the roof of an underground carpark collapsed.

No one was hurt, but nearly 200 people in surrounding residences were evacuated, and the government has set up a committee of inquiry, with suggestions of inadequate design, poor construction and overloading of the surface all being contenders for the cause.

Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent in the UK, Europe and the Middle East, and discusses all things parking. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

 

Article Abstract from November, 2012




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