What’s Happening in Europe? Buying, Selling ... and Democracy, Not!
I remember that whenever I talked with Frank Transue of Walker Parking Consultants about the future of our industry, he would simply quote the number of cars that Ford/GM/Toyota had sold last year and give me one of those looks. You know, the one that you give the guy who has just tried to put the bookshelf on the wall with Scotch Tape.
Well, some breaking news here in the UK that might just mean that, Frank, you might have to rethink that. People are beginning to stop using cars in Britain! More correctly, men have begun to reduce the amount of driving that they are doing each year.
The car is still the main means of travel in the UK, and use is growing outside the cities and among women, but total mileage has reached a plateau, with little change in the last decade. Younger men have cut their driving by about 2,000 miles, or 30%.
There also have been significant reductions in annual mileage by male drivers with company cars. Here in the UK, workers can get cars provided by their company as a low-tax perk, compared with what it would cost them to buy the car. (It also was possible to get tax breaks on fuel, although this perk has now been cut back.)
During the same period, train use has grown by 60%, and here’s the big surprise: Business-related rail travel has tripled!
So, it’s not the end of the car; it’s not even the beginning of the end. But if I may mix my metaphors, it may be just the first inkling that the super-tanker that is the seemingly endless growth in car ownership and use may just have started to turn.
Calm Down, John
Meanwhile, as I write this coming up to Christmas, towns and cities all over the UK have started to offer “free” parking for Christmas shoppers (aka “someone else” pays for parking). I know all the arguments about why this is a bad idea and agree with many of them, but I can also see the other side of the argument.
Town A competes with Town B for business: They are a few miles apart, both suffering from the recession, and have similar retail offers in terms of the number and type of shops. If A offers free parking and B doesn’t, B loses out to A at the busiest time of the year; shops go out of business, jobs are lost and ultimately the loss of income will be higher than by offering a month’s free parking to Santa’s little financial helpers. Strangely though, given the previous article, no one is yet offering free bus or train rides.
French private equity group Eurazeo has appointed financial advisors Lazard to sell its 81% stake in leading European parking operator Apcoa. Eurazeo obtained the asset from Bahrain’s Investcorp in 2007 for a reported €885m, and it is understood that, in 2010, Eurazeo invested a further €10m when the business’ debt was restructured.
Lazard has not yet started to seek a buyer, as I write this, but early responses from a number of infrastructure funds have been cool, with two potential bidders, while saying they would consider the purchase, did not see the business as a priority investment target. It is understood that 18 months ago, Apcoa failed to find a buyer for its UK on-street operations
There also has been a change at the top at Europe’s No. 4 operator, Empark. The company was formed in 2009, when Portuguese operators acquired Cintra Parking from Ferrovial Subsidiary Cintra, and the combined group became the fourth-biggest operator in Europe. At that time, Leopoldo del Pino from Spain became the Executive Vice Chairman of the combined company, but he has left the company and disposed of his share of the business to other shareholders.
England and Wales have 43 independent regional police forces. Each covers its own geographical area, apart from the Metropolitan Police, which has a sort of national / FBI role for serious crimes; and the City of London, which does financial crime.
Each force was managed by a police authority overseen by a 17-person committee. It was chosen from the elected councillors of the area, plus independent members, appointed to reflect the community make-up, plus magistrates. So the committee broadly reflected the community, plus some people with hands-on experience of administering justice.
“Not good enough,” said our Government of None of the Talents; it’s not democratic because no one got to vote for who was on the committee. Their cunning plan has been to replace each committee with a single, directly elected Police Commissioner. This isn’t like you guys in the U.S. voting for the sheriff; some of these police forces cover populations of tens of millions of people.
Trouble is, they didn’t tell anyone. The election was Nov. 22. There were no campaign leaflets, no TV debates; no one knocking at the door; nothing, zilch, nada. The only clue was a tiny little postscript on the election card telling us that there was a web page or a phone number we could call.
The result was that less than 15% voted, meaning that in a three horse race (most were more), the winner could get elected with a 5% vote.
Now here’s an interesting thing: Having rejected any form of proportional representation or transferable vote system for electing themselves, our glorious leaders decided that Police Commissioners should be elected by the supplementary vote system. This meant that if no candidate got more than 50% of the votes cast, votes from the lower-ranked candidates were reallocated to their second choice; only the top two candidates were considered, and the one that passed 50% won. So we had a ballot where most people had no idea of who is standing for election and what they represent, using a system of voting that the government had already rubbished.
The result is that 39 of the 41 police forces are under the direct control of individuals who are political placemen and -women. The remainder are now governed by “independents” that seem to be a mixture of retired police officers with an agenda and candidates who carry labels such as the Zero Tolerance candidate.
So, let me see if I have this right: 17 people drawn from across the community, not democratic; one person elected by 5% of the electorate in a ballot where almost no one knew who was standing and what they stood for, democratic. Even the elected candidates were saying this was a farce. For the first time since I could, I didn’t vote – just me and 85% of the population.
Peter Guest is a consultant in the UK and PT’s correspondent on all things parking in Britain, Europe and the Middle East. He can be reached at email@example.com.