Notes from Big Ben Ö

Goodbye, Mr. President, and Other Sorrows

Peter Guest

Anyone who bothers to read this column will probably have noticed that I was President of the British Parking Association for a while. I am quite proud of this (English understatement here) because (a) I got elected and (b) people were actually a bit deferential, which means that the post, if not the holder, means something, which is good for our industry.
In many ways it was ďspot the president,Ē because my term of office managed to coincide with me spending a large chunk of my life in Abu Dhabi to get the largest parking project in the world started. The bids are in, but more on this later.
However, we got a few things moving in the motherland, not least of which is the Institute of Parking Professionals, where people in our industry now, for the first time, have their own professional body and commitment to develop a training program for all levels. My desire is to see the first people who get a ďbachelorís of parking.Ē
With the end of my term I now move to having the elder statesman title of Past-President Ė or as one colleague insists, Has-Been President.
Ah, yes, Tenders
and Bidders
Maybe we dispensed with torture as a workplace tool too soon. We are the consultants, we spend months working to get the client to decide what he wants, we write it down, we check it, and we even produce a look-up table so you donít miss any of the requirements. Youíre the bidder; you ignore the look-up table, you tell us in great detail how you will install the meters (which ignore 10 features that we do want and offer five that we have excluded), but you donít offer the required maintenance.
The tender says you will be paid for the meter when it is commissioned; you write down that you will be paid when itís delivered Ė do you understand the difference? We ask you to have the equipment certified for local environmental conditions; you send us certificates that show that it works fine in northern Europe. Hello! Ė it gets quite hot here in Abu Dhabi because in mid-summer, we are nearer the sun than Berlin.
Finally, we ask you to explain in detail how you quality assure what you do over the next seven years; you send us a certificate that says your company is ISO 9001 accredited to install condom vending machines in Kalamazoo. Then you get really upset when youíre not short-listed. Give me strength!
The Good Old Days
I saw a report from a local council here in the UK where the treasurer was wondering if he should do anything about the way the council collected the meter money. Apparently, two guys (the same two every time) go out in a car and open the pay-and-display meters and tip the money in the cash box into a bag in the boot (sorry, trunk) of the car. All the money goes into the same bag, which is taken back to the office where it is counted (same people all the time), and itís coming up short. One day they lost $2,000. The treasurerís idea was to get both guys to sign the collection paper; that should solve the problem!
A lawyer in the UK is fighting a parking ticket through the courts. He parks his motorcycle outside his house every day and gets a ticket. He argues that since the machine is on a stand and the wheels donít touch the ground, it is not on the highway, so itís not parked, so he is home free. OK, smart arse, so youíre not parked and you miss a $150 fine; how about the local cops arrest you for obstructing the highway? I always feel that a criminal conviction looks so good on a lawyerís resume.
A lot of people here are talking about how instead of a ďone size fits allĒ parking philosophy, we should introduce more differentials into the way we do parking. The two main ideas are that (a) we should fine people more who park in a no-parking area than those who offend at a meter and (b) we should get people to pay more for parking a high-polluting vehicle than the guy in his Prius.
I can understand the fine thing up to a point: If you park where itís banned, you potentially cause a bigger problem than if you park where itís allowed but break the rules. However, I think this breaks down with the hard-core offender in a busy city street. If someone has decided to park illegally, are they going to park where they risk a $100 fine or somewhere where they risk a $200 fine? No contest. If the streets busy and they take a meter, this then increases the chance that the honest guy will be forced to the no-parking area or to drive away.
Our government has just published new rules to allow a differential fine, and it will be interesting to see whether it makes things better or worse.
The second idea seems a bureaucratic nightmare. The idea seems to be that in order to use the public parking, a driver would register his vehicle with the local council and then pay a charge at the meter, which is set according to the engine size. First, do I have to register my car in every town I visit? Second, the city has to modify all the meters. Third, all the wardens have to be online to check what the vehicle is, and so, and so on. If you buy a big car, you are probably going to use less, so the environmental impact is likely to be minimal. I would be interested to see if the extra revenue will pay for the cost of running the scheme.
I saw JVHís recent blog about Crawfordsville, IN, and removing the meters. He asked how you manage the time limit. Itís quite easy: You use a clock card Ė a simple cardboard clock on which the parker sets the time they arrive and puts it in the windscreen. The parking warden checks the card, and if itís more than two hours after it was set, they issue a ticket. The card costs a few cents, and local merchants like them because the driver has to come into their store to get one.
Of course, when these were used in Austria, someone started to sell cards with a clock motor so that the card always showed there was time left Ė but nothingís perfect.

Peter Guest is PTís Correspondent for Europe and the Middle East. He can be reached at

Article Abstract from September, 2007

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