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Big Ben

Happy New Parking Year, In Both the UK and U.S.A.

Peter Guest

It’s already 2014, and I’m wondering what surprises the next 12 months will bring in the crazy world of parking. 2013 gave us here in the UK a Parliamentary Select Committee that produced a lot of smoke and a little light, and it will be interesting to see how many, if any, of their ideas make it through to the street. Based on previous experience, not much, I suspect; but we can but hope.

One thing certain to change over the coming months is the makeup of the European parking industry. Two of the biggest companies look set for a change in ownership in the not too distant future.

I understand that Vinci Park, the parking arm of the massive Vinci Group, is looking for a new owner, with at least one U.S.-based bidder likely. And Apcoa, the pan-European operating group, is going through a debt restructuring exercise in advance of an April 2014 repayment deadline for maturing loans. The main interest there seems to be from New York-based Centerbridge Partners, an investment firm, with offices also in London, which is buying Apcoa’s debt in a move that’s expected to see debt traded for equity.

Meanwhile, two UK stories just before Christmas point to the need yet again for local councils to just simply follow the rules that they are supposed to work by. Over here, every traffic sign is defined exactly in law in a stupendous tomb called the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions.

You can download this document off the UK government website if (a) you can’t sleep, or (b) you are a very sad person. The law tells you what every sign is for and what it looks like and how big it must be. No exceptions, no variations, unless you get government permission first.

If a new sign is needed, say, for the London “congestion charge,” then the government first issues a “special approval” for a one off use and then updates the regulations to allow general use if needed.

Case one: Poole council, on England’s south coast, repeatedly ticketed a lady driver for stopping in a no-waiting area to drop off her kids for school. This was judged wrong on two counts. First, it’s “No Waiting,” not “No Stopping,” and it’s quite legal to set down passengers. Second, Poole enforcement officers used a camera car to “catch” her, and government guidance is that where cameras are used, rather than patrolling officers, signs should be erected warning that cameras are in use.

The tickets were apparently quashed because the advisory, not mandatory warning signs were missing, rather than because there was no offense, which seems a little bizarre. However, it also seems that the adjudicators are now so keen to be seen to be not advantaging the Councils that even if the government says something is desirable rather than mandatory, that’s enough reason to find in favor of the driver.

Case two: Dear old Westminster council. In what seems like a “Damascene moment,” the city whose track record on getting it right is rather less than perfect has agreed voluntarily to refund nearly $450k in fines after admitting that some of its signs were confusing.

Apparently the problem arose because some parking bays that ran up to 6.30 p.m. converted to taxi ranks at night, instead of becoming free. The signs didn’t say this, so people parked and people got ticketed. Drivers complained and in a rare admission, the city agreed they had got it wrong, changed the signs and refunded the penalties.

Trouble is, though, the new signs don’t use the perfectly adequate approved designs to show what the rules are. Westminster has invented its own, and so, inevitably sooner or later, they will be back in court.

I do sometimes wonder why given the choice of simple or hard, some people are so determined to choose hard.

New car subs for ‘big lump’

I have just taken delivery of a shiny new car. After 12 years of driving what is by UK standards quite a big lump, I felt it was time to get something a bit more modest. But I now need a degree in electronics to make it all work.

It has radar so it can sense and avoid hitting stuff in front; the lights work by themselves, switching on and off and using high beam as and when required. It can park itself, has a “sat-nav” system to get me where I am going, and cruise control, and engine management systems, which I don’t pretend to understand.

I know a lot of work has been done on self-driving cars, but I seriously do believe that given what is around and the rate of technological advances, the totally autonomous car must close. In the UK, the government looks hard at whether we should still be driving after age 70, and I am entering year 65, so this looks a good idea from where I am sitting.

Breaking news: Government announces ‘Black Is White’ – it’s official

Back in September, the government of this green and pleasant land decided to sell the Royal Mail. This is the oldest postal service in the world and a bit of a national icon; the Queen’s head on the stamps, dontcha know. Anyhow, it’s a political decision, and we pay the politicos to make the choices.

The government-of-none-of-the-talents decided yes, and so set out to “flog off” the business. First question: to whom? Not a fully public float, but the first lump is sold to “the institutions” that, of course, get a better deal than we “proles” do. The second bit is offered for public sale, with a price of about $5 per share, this being absolutely “the highest price that it is possible to achieve.”

The deal is done and six weeks later, the shares are trading at an 80% premium. Did the government get it wrong? Not according to the politico in charge; we are simply misunderstanding the situation.

“We are all in this together,” said our glorious leader as he led us into the recession and capped pay raises for some of the poorest people to just 1% – people such as nurses and teachers and the guys that empty the rubbish bins.

Now one group of public workers is going to get an 11% pay raise. You guessed it, the honorable Members of Parliament. And just to make us realize how they really have our best interests at heart, the body that works out what they are due tells us that this is really half what they deserve, but they have kept the pay raise down because of the current economic climate

Yep, black is definitely looking quite pale these days.



Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian.

Contact him at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from January, 2014




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