Computerized Roadworthiness, Disabled Drivers, Parking Fines


Computerized Roadworthiness, Disabled Drivers, Parking Fines

So, Happy New Year to both my readers. Hope you had a good Christmas or whatever the PC expression is. BTW, on that point, the biggest Christmas decorations that I ever saw were in Abu Dhabi, where whole buildings were wrapped up to look like Christmas presents!

He-who-must-be-obeyed tells me that the world’s greatest parking industry publication will be focussing on “Emerging Technology” this issue, and that made me think about two recent incidents that, for me, brought into focus the potential misuse or misunderstanding of “smart” technology.

Here in the UK, vehicles more than three years old must undergo an annual roadworthiness test. Since the test was first introduced, something like 50 years ago, it has become more stringent. Originally, it covered little more than brakes, tires and lights. Now it’s more comprehensive, with great emphasis on things such as engine emissions.

Now here’s the technology thing: 20 years ago, you got a certificate saying that you had passed and the pass was recorded in a central database — job done. Last week, I got eight pages of paper, a video record of the examination to download, and a follow-up customer satisfaction survey by phone.

My interest is pass or fail, but I get eight pages of numbers that mean nothing to me and I will never look at, and a video that shows me that my car has an underside with mechanical bits screwed on.

I think that this is done because the systems used have become smarter and so they can. I’m not sure that it means that they should and really not sure how the eight pages have made my life any better.

The second incident is a good example of why people in market research should, sometimes, be struck about the head with a large blunt instrument.

Costa Bros is a UK chain of coffee shops that started off selling coffee under the railway arches at Waterloo station in London. When I worked across the road, I was a regular. I have remained a customer and I have a “frequent flyer” card that gives me money off.

Well, here’s the thing. I bought a coffee in one of its outlets, and a couple of days later, I got asked to fill in a customer satisfaction survey online. I bought a coffee, I gave you money — this transaction does not have enough content to analyse. A three-course meal, maybe, but a double expresso, no.

But Costa Bros has a smart system that allows it to spew out spurious surveys and produce reports that nobody will read. It’s make-work and does not make the world a better place, and I wish that they would stop.

In the British system, each vehicle owner gets a unique license plate at the start of its life and then pays an annual tax to be on the road. Owners need insurance and an annual road test to re-register their car each year.

Up to 2014, the driver got a security printed windscreen sticker, known colloquially as the tax disc, which was displayed on the windscreen to show that the vehicle was street legal.

Any policeman or enforcement officer could see at a glance whether the vehicle was taxed. Latterly, physical checks have been supplemented by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to increase the detection of non-compliant vehicles.

Now, the British government has decided that computers are here to stay. (Note to self: Sell shares in quill pens.) It decreed that a physical paper document was old hat and that the system should become paperless, to save money.

The latest government statistics show that the number of untaxed vehicles has now trebled, costing the Exchequer hundreds of millions in uncollected revenue. (Strangely, they are being quite coy on cost savings!)

Smart technology has certainly allowed a more streamlined and efficient detection process and has allowed the three key documents — tax, insurance and roadworthiness — to become more joined up. And access to this data, particularly by the police, has been simplified.

However, because the parameters of the problem were not properly researched and understood, all that has happened is that one deficiency has been replaced by another.

In Europe, we have a “universal” parking system for recognizing drivers with disabilities. It’s called the Blue Badge, and although the parameters for the issue and use of the badge vary from country to country, the actual physical badge is the same across all 28 countries, meaning that badge-holders are treated the same wherever they are. (Rather better than your extremely creaky handicapped placards in the U.S., I think.)

Anyhoo, my local hospital has suddenly decided to charge blue badge holders to park. Government policy for this state-owned hospital is that concessions or free parking should be offered for blue badge holders. The hospital seems to have largely ignored this

Possibly the ultimate hypocrisy, however, is from my local ward councillor, who has ranted on about this in the local paper. Only thing is, he was a leading member of the council that oversaw the introduction of parking charges for blue badge holders in the town center carparks back in 2012.

I am no expert, but I suspect that the average blue badge holder goes shopping rather more often than they go to hospital!

Now it’s that time of year when the figures for the number of parking fines that have been levied get issued. It’s all a bit predictable; the numbers are up, and the press has once again gone into a feeding frenzy about the evil of penalizing criminals for breaking the law. Only they don’t.

There is no reporting about the inescapable fact that more drivers are behaving illegally, or implications for things such as road safety and pollution, and no debate about how this rise in anti-social behaviour should be curbed (no pun intended).

There’s just invective about the evil, heartless councils making a “profit” from poor innocent motorists. They don’t, of course; any surplus money from parking is, by law, recycled into things such as road repairs and other transport improvements.

Incidentally, that’s an idea we in the UK wrote into legislation in 1967, a year or two before the good Professor Donald Shoup suggested something similar on your side of the pond.

I am hopelessly optimistic, I know, but just once before die, could someone somewhere report this objectively? Please.

NB – I will ask Peter his opinion of whether or not handicapped parkers should pay. You all know my opinion – it’s yes. They need more time and more space, but don’t expect charity. JVH

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Peter Guest
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