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Notes from Big Ben …

A Quiet Time – Except for Tokyo, Germany and Abu Dhabi

Peter Guest

Things are pretty quiet here in Britain at the moment. No major exposés about dodging parking enforcement. No car parks falling down. No major new initiatives.
The government passed some legislation in 2004 that allows the municipal parking enforcers to take on more traffic violations such as making a banned turn or driving in a bus-only lane, but, as usual, the government is late in publishing its statutory guidance (the rules that have to be followed to carry out the job), so I can’t even tell you about that.
True, the powers have been operating in London since 2001, and we have seen 80% reductions in some violations. However, what happens in London and what might happen in leafy Surrey are likely to be very different.
Overseas, we had a story of a German lady who managed to back her car through the side wall of a car park on the fifth floor. She didn’t get all the way, so her car was left hanging in the air. I wouldn’t like to have been the tow truck driver that got that call! On a more serious note, it does raise the question of just how strong a parapet should be. Apparently this lady stepped on the gas instead of the brake as she backed into the bay, so arguably she accelerated only less than the length of the bay.
I also see that finally parking enforcement has begun to bite in Tokyo. I understand that Japan is one of the few places in the world where there is not an automatic right to have a car. Others that I know of are China and Singapore. The place is so congested that before buying a car, the driver has to secure a parking place. They then go to the police with their proof of having a parking slot to get a permit to buy a car. The problem is that once they have the permit, they release the parking slot and park on-street. Apparently the police have been reluctant to take action, and now private contractors have been brought in to deal with the problem. It is, of course, the end of the world making drivers obey the rules.
Apparently, one consequence of this is that organized crime has moved in on the act. Gangsters are “persuading” land owners in the city centre to sell their land, which they then turn into unlicensed parking lots. The most popular target sites are traditional houses, which are easy to clear. They then use parking stackers to double up on the available space.
Once again I am spending a good deal of my time in Abu Dhabi, where we are trying to procure what is probably the world’s biggest single parking contract. The city centre has about 70,000 (yes that’s 70,000) parking spaces on streets, service roads and surface parking lots. All of this parking is over-subscribed and operates without any form of control or charge. The city is now looking for a contractor to do everything: Mark and sign the spaces; buy and install the meters; provide a parking management system; enforce, process and follow up fines; run a resident permit program; and everything else. The city has published an invitation to pre-qualify, and it will be interesting to see who thinks they can take this on. Me? I’m going to spend the next few weeks writing tender documents.
One of my U.K. clients has taken me on to help develop a 10-year parking strategy for his town. During a recent meeting with him, we got to talking about some of the problems they have to deal with and questions about why they are not making as much money as they expected.
The parking operation makes a bit more than $1 million a year surplus, and yet the elected councillors have resisted any attempt to invest in the service: either to improve the quality of the service to the public or to generate more income. Each parking inspector generates about twice as much income as they cost so it seems that a small increase in staff would (a) be self-funding and (b) offer a better managed service. The councillors are more likely to want to cut staff to save money. More fundamentally, I felt that their parking Inspectors should be doing better in terms of productivity. However, their parking inspectors work a 10-hour shift; their hand-held computers have an eight-hour battery life. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
I think I mentioned a few months ago that one London borough has floated the idea that, as part of its sustainable transport strategy, it would start to charge residents with fuel-hungry cars a premium rate for their resident’s parking permit. This has now been agreed and people with SUVs will now pay $600 a year instead of $200, or free if you drive electric. Other boroughs are set to follow, and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is talking about raising the congestion charge from $16 to $75 a day for such vehicles. Not a good time to buy shares in Jeep or Land Rover,
On congestion charging, now that the original London scheme has settled down, the mayor is planning to just about double the controlled area this year by extending the scheme westward. Interestingly, in the 30-plus years that this idea was studied in London before it was implemented, this option was never considered. Meanwhile, where London leads, others follow, and Manchester and Birmingham – which compete for the title of Britain’s second city – have announced their intentions to follow London and launch their own congestion-charging schemes.

Peter Guest, PT’s correspondent on all things Europe and Middle East, can be reached at peterguest@parking1.freeserve.co.uk. Contact him if you are interested in the Abu Dhabi deal.

Article Abstract from March, 2007




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