Magazine

Notes from Big Ben …

The British Parking Association at 40, and its ‘Master Plan for Parking’

By Peter Guest

The British Parking Association (BPA) is celebrating its 40th anniversary.What started with a small number of people with a common interest in the business of parking and traffic management has grown into one of the largest national associations in the world, with more than 650 member organizations, including more overseas members than any other similar body.

The anniversary year started in May with a dinner for all surviving Past Presidents of the BPA. Time and the Grim Reaper have taken their toll, but 14 managed to make it.

The BPA is an organization of organizations, and three years ago, as President, I had the pleasure of launching the Institute of Parking Professionals (IPP), which has individual membership, albeit that, for the present, IPP members have to work for a BPA member organization.

To coincide with this anniversary, the BPA has published a “Master Plan for Parking.” Aimed at the new UK government, the document sets out 11 points where the BPA wants government action. It calls for:

• Coordination in government for all parking issues.

• An independent appeals service for the entire private parking sector.

• Car owner liability for charges in private car parks.

• Compulsory membership in an accredited trade association (ATA) for companies that undertake parking enforcement on private land.

• Full regulation of private parking operators.

• The government and the health service providers across the UK to recognize that free parking does not deliver higher standards.

• Penalty charges throughout the UK to be set to ensure compliance with parking regulations.

• The government to grant Civil Enforcement Officers the same protection in law as Police Officers.

• Creating a regulator for bailiffs.

• Funding for qualifications for the parking profession.

• Implementation of the planned reforms to the “Blue Badge” (handicapped parking) system.

The full document is available from the BPA (info@britishparking.co.uk) or at its website: www.britishparking.co.uk/files/images/Master_Plan_for_Parking.pdf.

I don’t believe this document is a “master plan”; it is a wish list. And I think the BPA has, on this occasion, largely missed the point.

First, in calling for government coordination on parking matters, the BPA fails to recognize that parking as a process cuts across all aspects of modern life. Indeed, the authors of the document seem unaware that the Department of Communities and Local Government, which sets the national planning agenda, has a major role in parking; it is not mentioned. Parking is one part of a wider transport process, and to suggest that parking can be separated from the bigger picture fails to see that bigger picture.

The call for an independent appeals service for the private parking sector is strange. Most transactions between the private sector and the parker are in the form of a contract, and if either party feels that the other side is not honoring the contract, there is an arbitration process – it’s called a court.

The reason for this request becomes clearer with the third point, which is breathtaking in its implications. At present, if there is a contract dispute between two parties, then either party has recourse to the courts or some previously agreed arbitration process to determine the rights and wrongs of the case; there is no default liability on either side.

But the proposal is that, henceforth, the owner of the vehicle should automatically become responsible for a charge imposed by the car park provider. There would be deemed responsibility on no stronger basis than the operator saying the charge is due. Further, that responsibility is no longer with the other party in the contract but with a third party, the car owner. The proposal would move from a process whereby the operator has to prove the debt exists to one where the owner of the vehicle, not the parker, would have to prove that it did not

I see no reason general contract law should be modified to create a specific and patently unfair process specifically to deal with this specific type of contract. In any case, the UK Human Rights Act states that “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions”; it appears that the BPA is proposing to abrogate this right for the financial gain of the private parking sector.

Compulsory membership in an accredited trade association and compulsory regulation are fine principles, provided that the ATA has public confidence and, more important, has and will use procedures that will exclude those that fall below the required standard. The BPA has worked long and hard and honorably to put in place such a process, and with its “approved operator scheme” is part way there.

The problem is that although the BPA’s credentials and intent are clear to many in the industry, they have some way to go with the public, whose views, often fuelled by aggressive negative media coverage, still often perceive parking operations as little more than highway robbery. Legislation would help, but I cannot see that this is going to be on the government’s radar for some time. Also, I cannot see that the guy who operates 20 parking spaces outside a country pub is going to rush to support anything that applies yet more bureaucracy to his business.

The reference to hospital parking is frankly bizarre. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have made policy decisions that exclude parking charges from public hospital car parks. These measures have created administrative and financial problems that inevitably will result in a return to charged parking.

In England, hospitals that fail to apply basic common sense and follow good practices in dealing with the chronically sick create bad PR and fodder for the press. The last government launched a consultation on hospital parking charges, which meandered through the issues and failed to reach any conclusion, except to tentatively suggest a few half-baked ideas that would have been both expensive and unworkable. Regarding, penalty charges. In reading the document, there seems to be considerable confusion between two issues: the level of parking penalty needed to discourage parking contraventions and the cost of operating parking. They are not the same.

In earlier times when parking fines were set by central government and parking charges were set locally, it was not unusual to see a situation where it cost more to park on a meter for a day than to get a fine. Decriminalized parking should have allowed the local authorities to manage the charge/penalty differential so as to ensure that this did not happen. Unfortunately, the dead hand of government kept the penalty charge levels within the control of government that set national charge levels, which have no link to local parking charges.

This was a retrograde step that needs correcting. But – and it’s a big but – that doesn’t mean that the charge needed to deter illegal parking bears any relationship to the cost of providing the enforcement service.

There also are some pretty fundamental questions to be asked about how parking is delivered and enforced. If I can show parking signs to a lawyer with 25 years’ experience of traffic law and he can’t understand them, what chance does the average driver have?

The other points in the BPA’s plan are sensible – to raise standards and enhance skills – but I do wonder how widely the BPA consulted, even within its own membership, before producing this document. Sorry, guys, you don’t get a pass on this one.

Peter Guest is Parking Today’s correspondent for all things British and European. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from September, 2010




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