Magazine

Notes from Big Ben …

‘We are a Small Island and Cannot Deal With ...’

By Peter Guest

I live near Aldershot, UK, the HQ of the British Army. Over the 40 years of our civil war, security was tight and, most important, unpredictable. Now with the “terrorist threat,” it is supposed to be even tighter. Well, that’s the theory.
At the weekend, a bus full of PBI’s returned from a training exercise somewhere in Europe. When they opened up the luggage compartment, two Afghans stepped out. (PBI: Poor Bloody Infantry.)
Transport policy, the credit crunch and why “I Can Hear Voices”
We in the UK have an ongoing debate about not having a real transport policy; that is, a single cohesive and coherent statement about how people and goods should be moved around this island. We got a little closer in the early days of Emperor Tony Blair’s reign, with even a former Tory transport minister congratulating his opposite number on moving the plot forward.
Now, with the credit crunch, the wheels have come off, and we seem to be operating on a policy that, like a mythical bird, goes round and round in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up its own fundament.
It goes something like this:
We are a small Island, and we cannot deal with everybody and everything moving by road.
We may, or may not, believe in global warming and the contribution of pollutants from road traffic to this problem, if it exists.
We need to discourage car use (which implies that we need to get people to own fewer cars).
We will set planning standards so that future new buildings will have less space to park cars.
We invest more into public transport, cycle lanes, etc.
We increase taxes on fuel above inflation to make cars more expensive to run and to encourage people to have more fuel-efficient cars.
We introduce “measures” such as London’s congestion pricing to actively discourage car use.
But:
If houses have less parking, people buy cars and park on-street, so we start to abandon the policy.
The fuel tax is abandoned when the oil prices go through the roof (achieving the intention of the policy, incidentally).
We offer tax breaks for workers given cars by their company, but we tax them if they are given help with public transport fares
The new trains and buses are delayed or abandoned because of the credit crunch.
Public transport funds are cut back. I got a bus pass when I was 60 that allowed me free travel on any public bus. The government has now “clarified” the scheme to exclude a whole range of buses I might want to use in busy places at busy times, putting me back into my car.
Cycle lanes are installed only where it is easy, so there is no coherent network. “She who must be obeyed” tried to cycle four miles to work once. She had to get off the bike 10 times to cross other traffic. She got back in the car. Note to traffic engineers, if you want to make cycle routes work, make the other traffic give way to the bikes, not the other way round (go visit the Netherlands if you want to see how).
We cannot build a single piece of transport infrastructure, be it road, railway, dock or airport, without a 15-year debate that will include civil unrest and 80-year-old ladies being arrested as potential terrorists for trying to preserve 11th-century churches where 20 generations of their family are buried.
Allegedly, six million people are directly or indirectly employed by the automotive industry, so we introduce a $3,000 incentive to buy new cars. The bad news is that virtually all these cars are made abroad, so we are using the money that could have paid for the new buses to subsidize industry in Europe, Japan and Korea.
But ... we are a small Island, and we cannot deal with everybody and everything moving by road ...
It’s the Law, Let’s Ignore It
The biggest municipal parking operator in the UK is Westminster. The whole borough is covered by parking controls, divided into zones. The law says that the borough must post every entry point to a zone with a sign saying what the operating hours are. The city centre is Zone F, and the boundary signs are incomplete; without these signs, the “No Parking” areas are unenforceable.
Westminster writes tickets on these areas, and a driver appealed the validity of the penalty. The adjudicators say the rules are clear, the scheme is invalid and the ticket (and potentially all the others issued since 1994) is void.
Up pops a Westminster spokesman: “I don’t agree with the judgement; we are going to carry on writing tickets.” The borough knows that whatever else happens, most of the people that they ticket will not know about the judgment and will pay the fine. They also know that, under the system, adjudicator rulings alone cannot be used to force them to behave properly.
The borough’s position is just plain stupid. Motorists are now going to a real court to sue for repayment of penalties that should never have been issued. This could be millions if the court decides to backdate the judgment to 1994.
When the case is heard, the court will rule in favor of the motorists, and Westminster will be screwed. However, instead of stopping and making sure things are right, the borough’s blatant disregard of the original ruling means that they will have to deal with more problems and pay out more money, and will have a more damaged reputation than if they behaved properly in the first place. They should perhaps consider the old maxim: “When you are in a hole, stop digging.”
Westminster has also made the news in another way. They are the first local authority in the UK to make all their street parking cashless. They were the first place in the UK to introduce parking meters about 50 years ago, and they have just taken out the last cash-operated meter.
Parkers in Westminster can now pay by phone, credit card or by buying a scratch card. This has prompted a big debate about the legality of the move, since it seems intrinsically sensible that we should be able to use a public facility such as municipal parking with coins of the realm. However, I have read and re-read the law, and I think that Westminster has got this right. Not sure that it’s good customer service, but I am pretty certain it’s legal.
And Finally, Parkex
I am sure that JVH will write up Parkex, so I won’t bother, but I will tell a story that John probably wants to forget. The plan was to promote Parking World, PT’s sister magazine, and a few hundred copies of said magazine were due to be delivered for the show.
I agreed to baby sit the stand on day one, and I duly arrived to find one booth, four posters and no magazines. The shipper had screwed up, and the magazines were still in the air and due Thursday afternoon, the last day of the show.
This potential disaster was saved more or less single-handedly by Mandy, the incredible one-woman marketing campaign. With little more than a piece of paper and a smile, Mandy signed up more people to the magazine in one day than most people would have got in a week.
It was if Mandy generated some kind of magnetic field that pulled people into the booth. Whatever you paid her, John, it wasn’t enough.
Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent on all things European and Middle East. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from June, 2009




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