Notes from Big Ben …
Enforcement is “Hot Topic” in UK
By Peter Guest
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Cologne, Germany. The European Parking Association has a biennial awards program, and I am one of the people updating the rules.
The idea of having parking awards seems to be the coming thing over here. In the UK and Ireland, we have annual events, and although the Europeans are currently every two years, making the event annual is firmly on the agenda. I wonder why you guys haven’t caught on to this concept yet. Both the UK and EPA awards are now keenly competed for, and it’s a great excuse for a party.
If you read this column regularly, you will know that street parking enforcement is a hot topic here in the UK. The TV companies run regular exposés showing that (a) all parking enforcement is evil and mostly unfair, and (b) the people who do the job are the spawn of the devil. Therefore, it was nice to see a good news story about one particular traffic warden from Stromness in the Orkney Isles off Scotland.
James Dewar had been the local traffic warden for 14 years; he worked seasonally during the summer when the local population is swollen by tourists. But the Northern Constabulary decided to increase the number of police officers in Stromness and determined the warden was no longer needed. Local residents mounted a campaign to keep James, and his job has been re-instated, at least for now.
Tractors, Tickets and Bad People
How about the guy with an antique tractor who lives a couple of hundred miles from London who keeps getting parking tickets. This story illustrates a real problem here: cloned vehicles. This is usually done to hide a stolen car. Thieves steal a car and then use the number plates of a real car that is the same make, model and color.
If they are selling the car, they can even get a replacement log book (vehicle registration record) by writing to the vehicle-licensing department (which has all the security of a wet paper bag) and claiming that they bought the car and the original document has been lost. The unfortunate owner of the “real” vehicle can then face months of bureaucracy to sort things out. It takes a real brain surgeon, however, to select a 50-year-old tractor to clone.
Almost Right is Completely Wrong
And consider the town where the council “improved” the main shopping street and for the last year or so has been writing tickets there, even though they had not signed the street correctly. My daughter is the manager of a shop in the town, and for some time she has been complaining that the truck that delivers to her store regularly gets ticketed for parking in the street, which he has to do because there are cars parked in the loading bay (and not getting a ticket).
The issue was that the council had been told their markings were wrong, but carried on writing tickets until the government actually wrote to them and told them to stop, and they are now refusing to refund the fines that predate the government letter. They have stopped now for a few weeks while they “correct” the signing (bet they don’t) before they go back to ticketing.
With this in mind, I went to a local meeting a couple of days ago to hear about another new parking scam, sorry, scheme. The local village center had free street parking where a driver could stay for an hour. There was supposedly a problem caused by some local business people parking all day. This has never been measured or quantified.
The local council, on the basis of a few letters, put parking meters in the shopping street, which is now empty. The traders are saying that business is dying, and local resident are complaining that their uncontrolled streets are now blocked with parked cars. To me the problem is simple: (a) The council acted based on what they thought the problem was; they never measured and understood it. (b) The technical solution to the assumed problem is inappropriate. (c) Because the assumed problem has never been quantified, they failed to understand the wider impact.
There was not a single voice in support of the scheme, and I suspect that the council will be forced into an expensive re-think. If all this was not bad enough, none of the signs and lines conforms to the rules, so any tickets are invalid.
And Finally ...
Sometimes I think that the light’s on but there’s nobody home in our town halls. The law in the UK is clear: Parking charges are used to manage parking, not to raise money. Faced with this unambiguous legal ruling, Hambleton Council in Yorkshire is going to introduce parking charges – not to manage parking, but to plug a $900,000 budget deficit. Give me strength!
Peter Guest is Parking Today’s correspondent in Europe. He can be reached at
Article Abstract from September, 2008