Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story


Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story

 Once again, the press over here in the UK are having a field day with the publication of data relating to how much people pay to park at hospitals. It’s all there: “rogue wardens,” “cowboy parking companies,” “taxing the sick,” and so on and so on. 
Apparently the National Health Service (NHS) raises about $300 million a year from parking charges, for patients, visitors and staff in England. Some time ago, Scotland and Wales decided to ban hospital parking charges, which didn’t go too well. 
First, the national assemblies “forgot” that they had entered into a number of long-term contracts with companies to design, build and operate hospital parking and — surprise, surprise — the companies didn’t want to simply walk away from these investments, so several of the biggest hospitals in the Celtic fringe still charge, and will do so for many years. 
Second, gasp of surprise, when charges were lifted at City Center hospitals, local workers quickly repopulated the “free” carparks, reinstating the problems that the charges had been introduced to obviate. 
Third, the regional NHS suddenly found that they had a multimillion-pound hole in their budgets where parking charge surpluses had paid for medical services. 
Not the best political decision ever. Anyway, I digress. 
Nowhere is there any suggestion that any of the alleged $300 million is used to meet the cost of providing the parking facilities; or that the surplus is used to fund medical services that otherwise wouldn’t be provided. 
Contractors (i.e., we the parking industry) are lambasted for “rip-off” and “terror” (really?) tactics, where horror/shock people are charged for the service that they use and charged more when they break the rules. The reality is that in almost all cases, the charges and penalties are set by the hospital, as are the rules. 
For sure, someone who overstays because their appointment overruns will get a ticket. The person patrolling in the carpark isn’t psychic; all they see is a car breaking the rules. 
The decision to push for payment of that ticket is made by the hospital managers, and I do agree that this is immoral when the reason for the “offense” is the often unavoidable performance failure of the hospital. 
Similarly, the government published strong guidance many years ago saying that hospitals should facilitate access for chronically sick people — for example, someone undergoing chemotherapy. The decision to still charge these people full rate for parking is down to the hospital managers, not the parking contractor. 
I do continue to wonder, however, why “the press” continues to single out parking charges this way. No one seems to be arguing that bus fares and taxi charges should be waived for trips to hospital. Why should car users get subsidized and everyone else pay full cost? I guess that the world is just not a rational place.
The use of the term “pay-by-phone” is really a bit of a misnomer, because the actual payment is made via a credit card, which is linked to an account, which is accessed by mobile phone. 
Way back in the Stone Age, I was involved with a company that actually offered genuine pay-by-phone where payment was through the phone account, without involving any third party payment system, and it was very much more simple to use because all the user had to do was send a text to pay. There was no need to set up an account or register a vehicle. 
The impact was obvious, and in its home country, the system handled about 75% to 80% of parking payments; whereas, the domestic credit card-based pay-by-phone systems struggled to get much more than 15% to 20% market share.
The world turns, and in the London Borough of Camden, only 25% of payments are now made at the meter, with everything else pay-by-phone. This means that Camden has been able to progressively reduce the number of pay-and-display machines from 924 to 250. 
I am delighted to see an outbreak of common sense and customer awareness, with the borough’s head of parking services recognizing the need to maintain an alternative payment system for those who don’t want to pay-by-phone, but at the same time seeing an opportunity to radically update the way that they do business. 
All the meters will be upgraded (a) to be solar-powered and (b) to require users to enter their vehicle registration. This means that, with pay-by-phone, all vehicles that pay will be recorded, and the borough’s contractor, NSL, will be moving to using camera-based vehicles to check all parked vehicles and directing patrolling officers to any vehicle that doesn’t show a payment. 
Making Smart Cities work.
A great idea now, as it was when the Spanish contractor Empark introduced in its home country a couple of years ago. Well, they do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
We have a system over here where we UK citizens can petition Parliament about just about anything via an e-petition on the government’s website. We need only five names to start. If we get more than 10,000, the government is obliged to respond. Get more than 100,000 names, and the petition goes in front of a House of Commons committee. 
The committee decides, independently of government, whether or
not Parliament should debate the petition. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. 
You in the U.S. have an election coming up later this year for a new president, and one of the aspiring candidates is Donald Trump, who among other things owns a golf course in Scotland. 
In connection with this, he recently and unsuccessfully argued against an off-shore wind farm in a country that is facing increasing concerns about its ability to meet its energy needs. 
More recently, Trump has commented on conditions in some inner-city areas in the UK and made some statements about Muslims. Following this, Trump has achieved a dubious record. 
A petition was launched asking the UK government to ban Trump from entry into the UK. The petition runs until June, but as of this writing, has already attracted nearly 570,000 signatures. 
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian. Contact him at
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