Magazine

Notes from Big Ben

Abu Dhabi, Parking Oscars, Bern and Meter Theft

Peter Guest

I’m still spending more time on planes than in my own bed, and right now I am sitting back in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, finalizing the tender for this project. The big news for bidders will be that we are insisting they bring us a fully integrated parking management system, rather than the normal half-dozen separate systems bolted together with string and gum. I suspect one or two bidders may fall over at this point.

One thing we are really pushing is mobile phone payment. The UAE, like the USA, doesn’t have high-value coins; the biggest value coin is 1 dirham, around 25 cents, but everybody has a mobile so we really need the phone system. We want an open access system so people do not have to register cars, phones or credit cards, and one of the early expressions of interest came from a local representative of an existing system who, on page one of his document, told us that he completely understood our need and then spent 10 pages telling us how their pre- register, account-based system was what we really wanted. Next!

Abu Dhabi has a large immigrant population, so the local papers carry a lot of news from India. One story that caught my eye was the announcement that police in India will be supplied with uniforms that have been made from cloth pre-impregnated with perfume, so that in future they will smell nicer “so that dealing with the police will become a more pleasant experience.” Plan B: Soap.

Earlier this month, the UK had its own parking Oscars – the British Parking Awards. This is an annual event where we get together over a good lunch and tell ourselves how wonderful we are. That is perhaps too cynical a view, but as an occasional attendee, I am fascinated by the guest celebrity (some guy you’ve seen on TV but can’t remember his name) who suddenly has to talk for an hour about an industry he didn’t even know existed the day before and give awards for “the best solution for removing gum from car park decks” or whatever.

Seriously though, the best thing about this event is that some of the awards are now given to people who actually do the work, rather than “for the best new widget.”

In Bern, Switzerland, the City Council reserves parking places for women in car parks (why?). Trouble is that men, the unfeeling brutes, keep using them. This perhaps because (a) the spaces closest to the exit and (b) under camera surveillance, as in “I don’t want my car vandalized either.” Traffic officials are hoping to stop men from using these spaces by painting them pink and adding flowers. The managing director of a local car park said: "Legally, we can’t stop men from using women's parking spaces. And telling them off didn't work, either." So he believes that by painting the parking places pink, the guys will be scared off. (I have checked the date on this; it’s not April 1st.)

On a more serious note, London is once again suffering from organized meter revenue theft. Over the years, we have had an ongoing battle with organized gangs that have stolen money from parking meters using a range of techniques from forged keys to simply yanking the meters out of the ground at night.

The present gangs seem to have acquired a key to meters and are ripping off thousands of dollars a day by simply opening the meters and pocketing the cash. This came to light when someone filmed them in operation using his mobile phone. If anyone out there has experienced a similar problem and has any advice to offer, I’m sure it would be welcome.

I do remember that in “the good old days,” the city of London used to have a unique lock in each meter. Cash collectors would travel on a carefully defined beat carrying the keys on an enormous hoop. As each key was used, it was passed round the hoop to access the next one; it was bad news if you dropped the hoop part way round.

I recently went to Lisbon, Portugal, to meet with my colleagues from all over Europe. As well as each country having its own national association, we also have a European Parking Association, which brings together 20 countries (so far). Part of what we are doing is trying to look at all the different parking laws in member countries to understand the differences and see what we can learn from one another. For example, in some European countries, local residents in busy areas can get a permit and exclusive parking, while in others, the best a resident can hope for is a cut-price tariff. If anyone out there feels like corresponding, I would be interested in knowing what happens where you come from.

And, finally, the headline in a Lisbon English-language paper said:

“More Fines as Parking Inspector Numbers Increase.”

Article Abstract from May, 2007




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