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Notes from Big Ben …

The Most Expensive Big Mac in the World?

Peter Guest

Fast food has taken on a whole new meaning here in the UK. McDonald’s is upset that the free (as in pay for it some other way) car parks at some of its town-center outlets are being used by people who are not their customers. Therefore, it has introduced a one-hour-stay limit and a $25 charge for staying longer. This is enforced using CCTV.
One guy who managed to spend one hour and 20 minutes eating his Big Mac (how?) was pretty upset when he got a fine in the post a few days later. JVH and I recently disagreed about enforcing street parking, but in this case, I just think the whole thing is stupid.
If you have a problem with your customer facility being misused, at least have the common sense to make sure that the people you are hitting are not your customers. You can do this by walking up to the car and looking at who is inside; you can’t do it by monitoring a camera from 200 miles away.
Meeting of the Flat Earth
Society (Edinburgh Branch)
A few weeks ago, people in Scotland were complaining about charges for hospital parking. Remember that we have a state medical service and that the government owns and operates the hospitals. The government provides money to build and operate the medical services but not to build car parks (not a medical service). Hospital management boards get over this by charging for the parking.
What usually happens is they charge their staff (poorly paid but dedicated) a fairly nominal sum (my wife works in the local hospital but pays less than $100 a year to park), and the visitors and patients pay a commercial rate, which is used to cross subsidize the staff parking. In the UK, it costs between $10 and $20 a day to fund a car parking space in a parking deck, so if you are charging your staff $2 a week ...
The Scottish Assembly (a sort of regional government that seems to observers south of the border to increasingly exercise power without responsibility) doesn’t do arithmetic and has announced that from 2008, they will legislate so that the maximum daily charge in a public hospital will be $6 a day.
So, Mr. Hospital Manager, (1) the government will not give you any money for parking that (2) costs you $15 a day to provide, and (3) that you cannot sell for more than $6. Oh, by the way, since you are a public hospital, you are not allowed to operate at a loss. Oh by the way (2), since your hospital is in a city center and now offers the cheapest all-day parking in town, your car park will be full of local office workers who get in before your customers, so your customers (patients and visitors) won’t be able to park anyway. Brilliant!
Christmas Bah Humbug
Just before Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. Knight went to Brighton in Sussex to stay at a hotel. Mrs. Knight has Motor Neurone Disease and is confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak or move without help. Her husband parked their specially adapted car outside the hotel and displayed their disabled badge while he wheeled his wife into reception, which was busy (it was Christmas). When he returned to the car, he had got a ticket for illegal parking since the badge was the wrong way round and the parking warden couldn’t see the details.
I have no problem with this. The driver made a mistake; the warden is not a mind reader, and about 70% of disabled badge use is illegal. He writes the ticket based on what he sees; that’s his job. Now the problem: Mr. Knight contacted the Borough and explained the situation; the response was that Mrs. Knight, the badge holder (can’t speak, in a wheelchair, lives 100 miles away), must apply personally (not true) if they are to consider cancelling the fine.
In the UK, Law Councils have what is known as unfettered discretion in exercising their powers. In simple terms, this means that they must apply common sense. In this case, the vehicle was specially adapted to carry a wheelchair and the Council should have satisfied themselves that the badge was valid and cancelled the ticket.
And Finally
My Croatian friends have a great system of paying for parking with a mobile phone. I talked about this to some of you when I came to PIE in 2006. Most systems pick up about 10% of payments; this system handles about 70% of all parking payments in Zagreb. They are always looking at new ways of using the system, and in 2007, they extended it to allow people to buy tram tickets by phone.
Zagreb has a pretty good tram system, and you used to be able to buy a one-trip ticket for about $1.20 from newsstands or for about $1.60 from the driver on the tram. About a year ago, a “Manager” decided that to speed up the trams, they would stop selling tickets on the tram. The problem is that there are no newsstands anywhere near a lot of tram stops.
However, since the same Manager decided to stop on-board ticket checking to save money, travelling without a ticket carried few risks. In May 2007, they launched M-tram, where the tram user can get a one-trip ticket by sending a text. Within four months, more than 100,000 tickets a month were being bought this way, without any reduction in sales at newsstands.
I guess that this story proves two things: (1) seniority is no bar to doing stupid things and (2) given the chance, most people are honest.

Peter Guest is PT’s Correspondent for Europe and the Middle East. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from February, 2008




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