Magazine

Notes from Big Ben

Laugh ... I Thought I’d Never Start

Peter Guest

Peter Guest will be speaking at the Parking Industry Exhibition in Chicago. His topic will be a discussion of arguably the largest parking system installation on earth, the one being currently installed in Abu Dhabi.

On April 1 (appropriately All Fools’ Day), a new system of parking enforcement goes into effect in the UK. A lot of changes allow municipalities to do things such as ticket people making a banned turn.
But the biggest change for parkers is that the previous “one size fits all” penalty charge is being replaced by a two-level system where charges will be reduced by 20% for “lesser” offenses such as overstaying at a meter and increased by 20% for more serious offenses such as parking in a no-parking zone. Predictably, cities are lobbying the government because of the money they will lose on the 20% reduction, and motorist groups are claiming that it’s all a trick to make more money because of the 20% increase in costs.
Where did this system come from? Was it the result of detailed research and evaluation? Well no, actually. In London, the Borough Councils can get London-only powers, and it seems that a few years ago, after some market research, they decided that this new system of parking enforcement would be a good idea in the capital – and they changed the law. Why bother with science or numeracy when you can ask people what they want, rather than research what is needed?
So, as a result of some polling in London, the UK will shortly have a new law where frankly no one knows what will happen. Here are my predictions:
1) It will start as a mess. The law changes April 1, but at the time of this writing (late January), the government has yet to finalize the detailed rules that determine exactly what the Borough Councils, and hence their IT systems, have to do.
2) After April 1, the Councils cannot use the old systems – they are no longer legal – but some will.
3) Councils faced with a choice between writing a $160 ticket and a $240 ticket will concentrate on the higher-yielding ticket, and within a few days, the guys who don’t want to pay for parking will migrate to not paying at a meter, knowing that the chances of getting a ticket will be lower – not quite what was hoped for.
Wal-Mart’s ASDA Chain Fined
Some time ago I reported on the terrible accident at an ASDA (a major supermarket chain owned by Wal-Mart) car park. The supermarket had installed a barrier arm to stop people from misusing its car park at night. The barrier swung horizontally; one day the securing mechanism failed, and the barrier swung in front of a car and killed the driver. ASDA has been fined about $500,000 for this. In UK terms, this is a pretty big fine, and of course, the way is now open for the man’s family to pursue a claim for damages and compensation. A sad story.
Blue Badges
In the UK, we have a problem dealing with drivers and passengers with disabilities in a sensible way. We have two bits of law and they don’t talk to each other.
First, we have a system whereby a driver (or passenger) who has a recognized mobility problem can get a permit, called a blue badge, which exempts them from many restrictions and charges. Car parks mark wide spaces that are reserved for blue badge holders. This is very similar to the ADA provision in the US. The second law, called the Disability Discrimination Act, makes it illegal to discriminate against anybody on the grounds of a disability. So, if I have a disability but I don’t have a blue badge ...?
Planners now require that to meet DDA requirements, car parks must have the same proportion of spaces for the disabled as the proportion of disabled people in the population. However, since not all disabled people have cars, let alone a blue badge – and anyway they can park on the street for free – many of these spaces sit empty whilst other drivers search for somewhere to park. Any suggestion that this rule is inappropriate by, for example, a shopping mall owner is met by the suggestion that they want to discriminate.
On the other hand, the government has finally recognized that, to put it bluntly, the blue badge system has failed. Surveys suggest that more than half of all cars parked with blue badges are breaking the rules, either because the badge is forged or because a family member misuses the badge of a genuine holder to get the benefits that he or she is not entitled to.
This is illustrated by the case of solicitor Mohamed Lodhi, who used his wife’s blue badge to park his car at work. The local Council filmed him misusing the badge on successive days when he parked and displayed the badge, although his wife was not in the car. He was fined $2,000 and paid $4,000 in costs and has to do 100 hours of community work. I suspect that once his case has been investigated by the Law Society, the lawyers’ professional standards body, his chances of keeping his position as a lawyer will be quite low.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do (1)
Whilst on the subject of parking for the disabled, Richmond Borough Council in London seems to have a two-pronged approach to what is and what isn’t allowed. Local resident Des Rock was unable to use the disabled bay that he normally parks in when he takes his disabled daughter to school. Why? Because the bay was being used by one of the Borough’s own parking enforcement vehicles, which was there to – you guessed it – stop illegal parking.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do (2)
Government policy here in the UK is to discourage car use in city centres at busy times when alternatives are available. Not in Wolverhampton, apparently. Whilst the City Council tells everyone else to get on their bikes, buses and trains, it spends about $1 million a year buying city-centre parking for its staff.

Peter Guest is Parking Today’s correspondent in Europe and the Middle East. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from March, 2008




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