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Notes from Big Ben …

We Brits Have Been Shoupistas for Years …

Peter Guest

I just got back from PIE in Chicago, where JVH had invited me provided I gave a talk. It is always difficult to judge how things went, but by using my patented speaker assessment system – nobody walked out, nobody threw anything and they clapped at the end – I guess it went OK.
The main event was, of course, the Donald Shoup presentation, where he talked about the issues highlighted in his book. From this side of the pond, it all seemed eminently sensible. As long ago as 1976 with the Greater London Development Plan, we had moved to where Prof. Shoup is trying to get you guys. Further, it is taken as read here that if street parking is charged for, then it will be higher priced and more restricted than off-street. In simple terms, we treat street parking as a premium service. I wonder if part of the problem is your currency. A widely available one or two dollar coin could revolutionize your street tariffs.

Transport Impact Analysis
Perhaps the next move for Shoupistas will be to adopt our approach to dealing with this issue. Any significant new development has to be supported with a Transport Impact Analysis (TIA) which the developer provides. The TIA sets out the expected travel to and from the building and explains how this will be met by using sustainable transport (bus/rail/cycle/walking). Parking provided if allowed on the basis of an irreducible minimum need for car use provided it does not exceed the maximum parking standard allowed for that type of building. We still have standards that relate parking to floor area or seating or bedrooms, but I think we are a little further down the path toward rational parking provision than you guys.
It’s the Law
Poor old JVH, he tries, but sometimes it’s all just a bit too sophisticated for him. His article in August’s Parking Today talking about our civil parking system quite correctly states that there is a bit of a row about how and why cities collect parking fines. Nobody likes paying for parking, and nobody likes paying fines when they get it wrong, Right so far, John, but this is where you go a bit wrong. The cities use traffic management law, not Fiscal Law, and although they can charge and fine – and are expected to cover their costs – they are explicitly prohibited from using the parking powers to raise money.
No parking manager will admit on the record to having a financial target; off the record, many concede that they are expected to generate revenue. Further, the law ring-fences some of the money for re-investment in things such as new car parks and better buses, but creative accounting does make a lot of this money disappear. That said, if the money doesn’t come from the parking fine – which hits the rule breaker – then it will come from the local tax, which hits us all.
Part of the problem is a matter of perception. There are just too many bad-news stories where cities and their contractors are being caught out by “investigative journalists” to be bending or breaking the rules and doing questionable things to generate more tickets, which they have previously denied. My daughter recently parked in a two-hour zone and got a ticket for illegal parking. The zone started at 8 a.m., and the ticket was written at 8.30 a.m. The ticket should never have been written, but if half the people pay up, the city will be generating thousands in revenue by lying.

Hit the Fan Big Time
Meanwhile, the ordure has hit the whirly thing big time here. The law requires that certain information appears on a parking ticket, and just recently, drivers have challenged the validity of their fines on the basis that the ticket showed the date of issue, not the date of offense, as the law requires. Now, of course, for tickets placed on the car, these are the same, but the adjudicators (a sort of low-level traffic court) has ruled that the driver was right and the ticket wrong. So far so bad. The adjudicator’s ruling applied to only the specific ticket, and although other cities should take account of the ruling, they are not obliged to.
Some cities changed their tickets, some didn’t, and several more motorists challenged their tickets. Then, in a truly suicidal move, one city decided to appeal the adjudicator’s ruling to the high court, the third highest in the land. It lost, and what had been a local issue became national case law, and all tickets with an issue date but no date of offense became invalid at a stroke. Thousands of tickets worth millions of pounds have been canceled. Some cities have ignored the ruling (although the parking managers issuing “illegal” tickets actually risk jail time). And in a situation that could have frightening implications, a motorist has started a case to get back a fine he had already paid on the grounds that it was illegally collected. Such rulings are not usually applied retrospectively if the city was believed to have acted in good faith. But the fact that the adjudicator’s earlier rulings were largely ignored could mean that some cities may soon have some very big bills to pay. Watch this space.

Article Abstract from October, 2006




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