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Notes from Big Ben …

Hourly Rates “Out” in Spain

Peter Guest

I am just back from speaking at the first ever Iberian Parking Conference in Oporto, Portugal. The two-day event was jointly organized by the Portuguese National Parking Association and their Spanish colleagues. It was a pretty swish affair, with about 150 delegates who attended a gala dinner that was held, where else, in the cellars of Taylor’s, the famous port company. Before dinner, we were given a conducted tour of the cellars and had the various types of port explained. I had never realized, for example, that 10-year-old port may not actually be 10 years old. The age describes the richness of the flavor, rather than the vintage of the wine, whereas, vintage port is the true age of the wine.
The big issue in Spain at present seems to be a court decision that ruled out hourly tariffs on the grounds that it was unfair to charge someone for an hour’s parking if they stayed only a few minutes. If I understand things correctly, tariffs now increase in five-minute steps, but far from saving drivers money, the operators have done the sums and now charge more per minute, so they still get the same return per car and the guy who genuinely parks for an hour pays about 20 percent more.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if the court’s philosophy were applied to other things? I checked out of my hotel an hour early, should I ask for a discount? What about that meal where I didn’t finish the dessert; can I have some money off?
The paper I delivered, about parking technology, was scheduled to last about 30 minutes, but the organizers got a bit carried away slotting in late speakers. By the time I got on the stage, this had been cut back to just 10 minutes, which gave me just about enough time to say “hello and thank you for inviting me” and wait whilst this was translated into Spanish and Portuguese.
We just had time to talk about a few things, including mobile phone parking, which seems unlikely to have a future in Iberia because of the need to provide a receipt with a payment. I didn’t have too much time to talk to the people there, but I kind of got the feeling that as the rest of the world looks toward ever more sophisticated technological solutions, they were in danger of going the other way.

In a Hole – Stop digging
That’s advice that motorist Ryan Williams of Cardiff might have done well to heed. In February 2005, Ryan stopped in Cowbridge, South Wales, to let a friend out of his car. A local police officer said he had stopped on a pedestrian crossing and issued him a $120 ticket. Ryan said he didn’t stop on the crossing and opted to go to court, where he was found guilty. Ryan is a man of strong principles and returned to court no less than 15 times in the next 18 months to argue his innocence, losing on each occasion. He has finally called it a day, having run up a $15,000 legal bill, in addition to the $120 fine and $300 prosecution costs. He has, however, apparently escaped the $70,000 bill for court time and police administrative costs.

Communication
I have always felt that Variable Information Signing was of limited value, especially to local car parks, since in most places: (a) the majority of drivers will know where the car parks are; (b) they will often ignore the information on the signs, preferring to go and, if necessary, queue for their favorite car park; and (c) it is seldom possible to give enough information to help the real stranger to make an informed decision. In a town near London, someone decided that “the message” should be simplified. They hacked the system and replaced the normal “SPACES/FULL” option with the simpler F**K OFF.

And a Happy New Year to You
Something similar happened a few years ago in Dublin, where a large variable text information board had been erected in O’Connell Street in time to inform Christmas shoppers of the up-to-the-minute traffic and parking news. The sign allowed free text until the Saturday before Christmas, when the operator had a liquid lunch courtesy of Arthur Guinness. As the car parks filled up, he became tired of dealing with phone calls from drivers looking for a space and changed the sign to the simple message: “THE CAR PARKS ARE ALL FULL SO F**K OFF THE LOT OF YOU.” The sign can now show ONLY pre-approved messages.

Don’t Call Us …
Coventry City traffic engineers definitely get a Homer Simpson Award for their new roundabout, which made the National News recently. For those who are not familiar with the concept, the roundabout is a way of managing traffic at a road junction so that as a vehicle approaches the junction, it gives way to vehicles coming from the right (in the UK) and has priority over traffic coming from its left. A driver goes round the roundabout until they reach the road they want and then turn left to leave the junction. Or not. In Coventry, a new roundabout has a banned left turn at every exit, so that once a driver enters the roundabout, they have no legal exit. Coventry City absolutely deny that they sent an engineer out to investigate and he is still driving round the junction trying to find a way back.

The Ultimate Enforcement Authority
Parking enforcement always gets bad press. It is apparently the god-given right of every driver to park when and where they want, for their own convenience, regardless of the effect on others. If anyone dares to complain or, heaven forefend, issue a ticket, they are Nazis, the devil’s agents or worse. I had to smile, therefore, at the sign in a car park at a church in a busy town center.

This car park is for the use of churchgoers only; unauthorized users will be:
a) Blocked in
b) Prayed for

Can’t appeal against that one! Does it work? The car park is empty.

Article Abstract from January, 2007




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