Magazine

Big Ben

Excuses, Shopping, a Win and a ‘House’

Peter Guest

For a whole week, I have been cut off from the world of electronic communications; it has been wonderful.


On Monday, the phone line was a bit crackly, and my Inter-web thingie kept stalling. You know, it started to download something, then stopped, then started; stop start, stop start. Tuesday, it was no better, and by Wednesday, well, it was just hopeless, so I phoned the phone company’s “fault” line (not too easy with no phone service, but that’s another story). I use BT, that’s British Telecom, as in Britain, the island between France and Dublin.


I spoke to a charming lady in Bangalore, India, who listened to my problem and told me that she would check the line. She did this by calling the engineer that I wanted to talk to, in the exchange a mile from where I live, who was having his tea (this is England, after all), so he said there was no problem with the line, so it must be my “equipment” that was faulty – which I thought was rather a personal comment from someone that I hadn’t been properly introduced to.


My charming Indian lady called me back on my phone, and through the noise on the line, explained that it was all my fault, and that I would have to pay $150 to get it fixed. However, while I was waiting, I had cunningly disconnected everything except a BT hard-wired phone, so it’s not me, it’s you, I told her triumphantly.


This seemed to throw her for a while, but she gamely recovered and agreed to send an engineer, but if the fault were on my side, there would be consequences (I probably would get put in the stocks for a couple of days) and a bill.


Now BT spends quintillions of pounds a week showering me with letters and TV adverts telling me how they have the best telecom service in the universe, and how I should change everything possible in my house to them immediately.


Apparently though, the best service in the universe doesn’t include fixing stuff, so for eight days, nothing.


And on the eighth day, lo, the engineer did appear, and it was as had been foretold: The fault was on BT’s line, because squirrels had eaten the cable.


That’s just seven days more than it took before they improved the service and I could talk to the engineer direct.


I have just finished a bit of work as part of my day job trying to understand the relevance of parking to commercial success in the retail sector. In 2011, “retail guru” Mary Portas was asked by the UK’s glorious leader, David Cameron, to “carry out an independent review into the state of [our] ‘high streets’ and town centres.” The subsequent report contained the now infamous recommendation that “local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes ...”     


 This, without any evidence that free parking, or indeed any parking at all, has any significant role in people’s shopping decisions and the economic health of a typical town center. Unfortunately, little David and his pals seemed to think that the whole economic “difficulty” that we are experiencing would be solved by the simple process of making local parking free for shoppers, and so we were very quickly faced with his minions telling the world that this was proven fact and the solution to all our problems.


Unsurprisingly, not everyone was convinced, and pretty soon I was involved in some research to try to understand the reality, particularly in the context of urban areas. The work has come up with, to me, some surprising results.


Car users are usually thought to be the big spenders, and indeed, on a per trip basis, they are. However, if one looks at the “spend” per week or per month, walkers spend two-thirds more than the car users do.


The argument often put forward by proponents of free town-center parking is that retail carparks with free parking kill business in the nearby towns. Well, a massive shopping mall on the edge of London with 13,000 free spaces manages to generate just two-thirds of the turnover of the local town, with just over 10% of the parking supply and all charged for.


Other research also showed that retailers tended to massively over-estimate the importance of vehicles to their customers, with surveys showing that retailers typically overestimated use by customers by 100%


(For those who are interested, I am sure the full report will be published in due course.)


On the other hand, I never cease to be amazed at the value that some people put on having access to a parking space they can call their own. Five separate parking slots, just a 2.5 by 5m bit of asphalt on the side of the road, are being auctioned in St. Ives in Cornwall, with a guide price of £50,000; that’s just over $80,000 Yankee dollars to you. And this is not fantasyland; a bit more than two years ago, someone paid £60,000 ($96,000) to park their car. Amazing!


Off-street parking in the UK is subject to value added tax (VAT), which is a 20% levy on all parking charges. On-street parking has never been taxed, probably because the old-style single-space parking meters couldn’t produce a receipt for the bean counters.


When pay-and-display took over from single meters, the receipt was there, but no one seemed to think the rules should change. And local authorities went one further and claimed the god-given right to opt out of paying the taxman his pound of flesh off-street as well.


This has rather upset the private-sector operators, who not unreasonably have seen the situation as giving the local councils an unfair competitive advantage. Finally, after many years of going to and fro in the courts, including the European Court of Justice, Revenue has won the day and the councils will have to pay the VAT.


Or, rather, we will, because as sure as night follows day, the councils will start adding 20% to their parking fees for the VAT, plus, of course, a bit extra for the cost of collecting the tax, and then it will have to be rounded up to the nearest 10p for the machine, and then there’s the cost of changing the tariff ...


I wonder who did the “trip generation studies” for this: In 2014, a £12m, 147-room “Fun Motel” is due to open in an as yet undisclosed location in Austria. The motel will employ “about 150 sex workers, who will entertain around 1,000 guests a day, and will have 350 parking spaces, plus room for coach parties.”


Please send all inappropriate jokes and witticisms to JVH, not to me


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 December, 2012




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