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Parking Tales From Big Ben

The Banana Republic, Donít Forget Cash, Parking Awards

December, 2022

Peter Guest

So, the end of another year and as you will have seen, a very traumatic one over here in Britain. It’s hard to really understand just how profoundly the death of the Queen has affected us all. She was a constant in a turbulent world and whatever you think of the monarchy, she kept her oath to serve for her whole life. I think that she did more good than harm, I doubt that that could be said of many of her detractors. In pace requiescat.


Now she’s gone and a sort of collective madness seems to have seized the country. Prime ministers and ministers come and go, almost daily it seems, in a carousel reminiscent of a banana republic. What’s promised today is snatched away tomorrow and the problems that the government is supposed to deal with get worse day by day. 


For example, the NHS is on the verge of collapse, but the government persists with immigration policies that exclude qualified staff from overseas. Our shortest serving prime minister promised to fix the economy then crashed it in just a week. Her successor promises to sort out the mess, forgetting he was the chancellor that created the problems! So, it looks like we shall be celebrating Christmas with food shortages and power cuts; Oh, Happy Day.


An issue that I have very strong views about is how we pay for parking. A full 100 percent of parkers have access to cash and, to me, it makes sense to offer a payment system that all your customers can use. Less than 100 percent have access to card payment, and indeed there is no right to have a card. That is in the gift of a bank. Less than 100 percent have access to smart mobile phones. Anyone can buy one, but for many, they are quite expensive, and particularly for old heaps like me, they can be complex and confusing to use. 


Further, paying for parking this way depends on network availability which is in the control of a third party with no contractual involvement in the transaction. If you are running a commercial parking business, then it’s your call. If you want to operate in a way that excludes some potential customers, it’s your choice. However, if you are a municipality, it’s a whole different ball game. You are not operating a business; you are providing a statutory service which should be available to everyone. By all means, run it in a business-like way, but if a council sets out to exclude elements of the public from a public facility, for operational convenience or financial efficiency, then it is not fulfilling its obligations. Imagine excluding the handicapped? There would be public floggings.


Two stories reinforced this view. Medway Council has removed cash payment from its car parks, substituting a pay-by-phone system that requires the user to have both a smart phone and a credit card. This excludes many of the local elderly who have neither. If evidence from elsewhere is to be believed, local retailers will very quickly notice a drop off in trade as the affected shoppers vote with their feet. Interestingly, I cannot find a rationale for this change anywhere; it certainly wasn’t to provide a better service.


Worse still is a report which exposes how badly things can go with a cashless system.Something went wrong and parkers were charged twice, resulting in about £400,000 being improperly taken from drivers. This was picked up by the Council who instructed  the supplier to refund the money. Apparently, this didn’t happen quickly enough for the Council and there have apparently been other issues around payments. As a result, Worcester are now heading to Court.


We have just had the annual British Parking Awards, which is a big event on the British parking industry calendar. Like many things in Britain the event was postponed from September because of the Queen’s funeral. I was down to go as a guest of the organizers, but a family emergency meant that I had to duck out at the last moment. So, thank you to Mark Moran at Parking Review for telling me what went on. The awards event is a big deal with the ceremonies accompanied by a lunch at one of London’s larger, posher hotels.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the event. The awards cover 23 separate categories, for structures, technology, services, people and teams.


A Merry Christmas to you all.



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