Notes from Big Ben …
Trade Shows British-Style, and the Color of Parking Money
By Peter Guest
A big thank-you to all who came to see me at the Parking Industry Exhibition. I think it went well; anyway, nobody threw anything.
To the gentleman who spoke to JVH, I apologize if some of the British jargon was a little confusing. When I write this column, I try to remember to translate into “American” but recognize that I may sometimes miss a word or two. I will try harder.
PIE was very educational. You Yanks have a completely different perspective and sense of priorities to many of the places that I go and work, and it is interesting to see the differences. I think it’s fair to say Europe is ahead of the U.S. in the use of technology, but we have not yet really come to grips with how we look after our parking garages.
PIE presents an interesting contrast with Parkex, the British Parking Association’s annual bash, which was held in Manchester three weeks later. Parkex started as a conference with a few stands – sorry, booths – but the exhibition outgrew the conference and presentations are now limited to a few short talks in a side hall. JVH tells me that Parkex is the biggest dedicated parking industry show in the world.
Unlike PIE, where booths are all quite small, at Parkex, some of the bigger companies really push the boat out with specially built stands costing tens of thousands of dollars. We even had an airship flying around the hall during the show. Many offer refreshments so that potential customers can be offered a coffee or beer and a sandwich, and there was an increase in “on-stand” gimmicks to pull in the punters. Stands had fortune tellers, slot-racing circuits and Wii games on offer. The social side of the event is reinforced by the sell-out annual BPA dinner, which runs alongside the show.
At Parkex, the main growth in technology was camera-based enforcement. It seemed that every second stand had a car with an on-board camera on display. Most of these vehicles are used to track down what you guys call scofflaws. Certificated bailiffs are licensed by the UK courts to collect fines, and they increasingly use camera-equipped vehicles to search out offenders.
The camera is attached to an ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) system, which is loaded with offenders’ license plate numbers. When a target is seen, the vehicle is seized against payment. Because the system is real time, it is rather foolproof. Most of the vehicles at Parkex were “smart cars” (designed to carry two people and a crate of beer), but one company opted for a military specification Land Rover. What did they know?
One stand showed a system for checking time-based regulations, which looked identical to a Canadian system shown at PIE. Parkex also had a self-enforcing parking meter – yeah, right.
Money, Money, Money
At PIE, Barbara Chance of Chance Management Advisors gave a great presentation. However, she said one thing that got me thinking: “Money is not the real objective.” To most people on the public side of the parking industry, this is a Mother Earth statement; indeed, in the UK, it is enshrined in law.
But is it really true anymore? When cities first got involved in parking, I guess that it was “for the public good” – like drains and street lighting, to keep the streets tidy. Indeed, the first parking controls were to limit time and place without charging. However, it quickly became apparent that the easiest way to do this was by charging a few cents, and so along came the parking meter.
Of course, once money got involved, it became a business, and it is no coincidence that the two founders of NCP, the UK’s biggest parking company, are on the UK’s “Rich List.”
The question is, given that there is a fully functional commercial industry out there, why should city councils still operate what should be a commercial undertaking in a non-commercial way? OK, maybe neighborhood parking for local residents is different, but why should the business district parking lot or street meter be looked at any differently from the lot operated by, say, Central Parking? I would welcome your views on this.
Order or Chaos: Take Your Pick
Here in the UK, I had predicted that the start of the new enforcement regime on April 1 would cause problems. The press coverage tells the story. One London borough council interviewed for Parkex News (yes, it’s big enough to have its own newspaper) stated that everything had gone smoothly and there were no problems.
The most serious situation seems to be in Leeds. Activists have for many years argued that many if not all of the tickets issued in Leeds were invalid because the city’s regulations signs and markings were a total mess. This made the local television news when even the government wrote to the city and warned that the situation was so bad that continued enforcement could amount to fraud or extortion. The city has, it seems, decided that there really is not a problem. A motorist has formally reported the city enforcement officers to the police for alleged criminal activity. Could the first person to go to jail for a parking ticket be the guy who wrote it, not the guy who got it?
At the other end of the scale of problems, many suburban areas in the UK, such as the one I live in, have a grass verge at the edge of the roadway separating the footway from the cars. Drivers park their cars on the verge to keep the road clear and they chew up the grass. The burghers of Kettering have come up with a green solution to this problem. They are planting hundreds of trees in the verges to keep the cars out.
Just in case you thought it wasn’t about money, check out what’s happening in Kingston, Jamaica. The city operates four parking lots in New Kingston where drivers pay to park Monday to Friday. Mayor Desmond McKenzie has been forced to take action to stop local “entrepreneurs” that move into the parking lots on the weekend and collect parking fees off gullible visitors to the capital.
Peter Guest is Parking Today’s correspondent in Europe and the Middle East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from June, 2008