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Notes from Big Ben …

And the Winner of the Dumb Prize is ...

Peter Guest

In a recent column, I told you about the “cunning plan” of the Scottish Assembly to cap hospital parking changes without thinking through the consequences. The Welsh government has gone one better. From April 1 (All Fools’ Day, how appropriate), all hospital parking charges in the principality will be abolished. The staff will park free, patients will park free, visitors will park free, the guy who wants to leave his car for two weeks whilst he goes on holiday... well, you get the picture.
It gets better. Each year, parking at Welsh hospitals contributes about $10m, which is used to support front-line medical services. The government has stopped charging for parking, but it is not going to add a single cent to the hospitals’ budgets. So Mr. Evans, the good news is that you no longer have to pay a dollar to park; the bad news is that since we now have a $10m hole in the budget, we can’t afford to employ the doctor that was going to treat you.
Whilst on Prizes ...
We had the British Parking Association awards here in March. These are the industry “Oscars” where 500 people get together for a good meal and a good time, and awards are given for the best car park, best refurbishment, innovation and so on. This time, I saw things from the inside, because I was asked to be one of the judges.
I always find this very difficult. We had a lot of entries, and some people had made a real effort to sell their project to the judges, whilst others had done little more than Xerox a few photos plus half a page of description. For most categories, the winners were pretty self-evident – for example, the best new car park clearly was better than the competition, and the hospital that introduced retail-style services (borrow a motorized scooter) had clearly thought outside the box to make it easier for sick people to get around the hospital. Only a couple of times did I feel that we selected the least worse rather than the best, but I am just picky.
This BPA event now attracts some national press coverage and from one journalist (who wasn’t there) an attack so vitriolic that you would have thought we had been sacrificing children. This journalist sees “the parking industry” as wholly evil: We do not provide a service, we do not catch and penalize law breakers; we attack the weak and prey on the defenseless, waiting to issue tickets to quadriplegics. In fact, one of the award finalists was a parking attendant who had saved the life of someone who was trying to commit suicide.
Smile, you’re on camera ...
The new enforcement regime went live here on April 1, and one of the features already generating a lot of column inches is what is coyly called “unattended ticketing.” It is alleged that “a lot” of drivers avoid getting a penalty by rushing out to their car and driving off. Since under the old law the ticket had to be served on the driver or attached to the car, this meant no penalty was incurred.
Now, since the purpose of the system is to stop offenders and not to raise money, I don’t have a problem with this. But apparently some drivers are serial drive-offs, so for them at least, the system isn’t working. Under the new law, the council can do two things.
If the driver leaves after the Civil Enforcement Officer (Parking Attendants got a new name: Why?) started writing the ticket, it can be posted to the driver. We had a big problem a few years ago where some parking attendants sat in the coffee bar and wrote tickets for passing cars.
If the driver objected that the ticket was never served, and a surprising number simply paid up, the attendant simply claimed that the ticket must have been removed by a mysterious ticket thief. I can’t help but think that with the advent of the new rules, the coffee-bar ticket is due to make a comeback.
The second option is by using CCTV, as has been the case in London for several years. There are places where people want to park for their own convenience but for traffic and safety reasons the city says no. If you stand a person in uniform at the side of the street, drivers won’t stop. But the moment the uniform leaves, the cars swoop in like vultures on a carcass.
A typical location could be outside a school where, twice a day, normally sane people leave behind their common sense whilst they take the kids to and from school. They double park, they triple park, they block access – including emergency vehicle access to the school – and they park on pedestrian crossings on and round corners and thru junctions. I live near a school and once found a mother parked on my driveway.
Send the uniform in and some drivers will park more sensibly, but many will simply become abusive. In London, a camera means that every dumb parking act gets ticketed every day and – surprise, surprise – drivers start to avoid the high-risk area and the traffic objective is achieved.
I like cameras, in the right place. The drivers usually know that they are doing wrong, and since there is always a film record if the driver challenges the ticket, they can be walked through the offense.
Does it work? I saw one mum get four tickets in five days for stopping her car in the middle of the road and blocking traffic whilst she off-loaded her brats. She is now $700 poorer and has discovered that her kids can walk a 100 yards from the safe parking spot up the road.
Is that fair? If you can’t pay the fine, don’t do the crime. If you think that the regulation is unfair or unnecessary, challenge in the office, not at the curb.
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 May, 2008




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