Notes from Big Ben …


Notes from Big Ben …

Street Parking
The British row I talked about last time – city-controlled street parking – still gets lots of publicity, with one driver now claiming that his human rights were infringed by getting ticketed! Apparently he feels that if he cannot see a reason for the regulation, he doesn’t have to obey it! Most media coverage is negative and very one-sided. The latest article took three pages in a magazine to attack the municipal parking regime and managed to mention only in the last paragraph that three parking attendants a week get attacked by motorists.
We originally “decriminalized” parking because the police were not doing the job. They claimed lack of resources and competing priorities. It was argued that the municipalities would be better able to staff the job with the same people setting priorities for both providing and enforcing the streets. Ten years on, the level of assaults on parking attendants has become so bad that they patrol with a police escort. Could somebody please explain to me how this saves police resources?

My life takes me to some interesting places, and I was very surprised last year to get a call from the mayor of Tirana, Albania, asking if I could help them with their parking problems. Albania is the poorest country in Europe, and under the old Communist regime, it was a closed country where outsiders were not welcome. Many illegal immigrants in Western Europe are Albanians, and such press coverage as there has been features tales of banditry and armed robbery awaiting the unwary visitor. Therefore, my first visit was made with some trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised. The country is certainly under-developed by the standards of the rest of Europe and is still in transition from the old absolute communist regime to a modern Western democracy. The city council is coming to grips with its problems by removing illegal developments and working through a program to repair and improve the city’s infrastructure.
Tirana has a population of about 600,000, and no one was allowed to own a private car during the communist period. Since then, they have rapidly converted to a democracy, where the two must-haves are the car and the mobile phone. Cars are mostly old Mercedes vehicles imported from Northern Europe, and they have created so much pollution that the government is considering banning the importation of cars more than 10 years old.
The city of Tirana now has a major parking problem, so we developed a program to create a city parking agency that will manage the streets and eventually build much-needed car parks. One of the good things about working in a municipality such as Tirana is that there are no preconceptions, so it is possible to be very innovative in developing a solution. The city council is expected this spring to approve the program to develop a city parking agency to run street parking using a mobile phone payment system. Watch this space.

London sometimes seems to be one big building site, with major new rail and underground projects crisscrossing the capital and with the tempo looking to increase as we get ready for the 2012 Olympics. The city is very much focused on public transport for travel, and so new car parks, especially in the city centre, are quite rare.
However, at the moment, one of the biggest new car parks in Britain is taking shape as part of the Terminal 5 Project at Heathrow. The 4,000-space structure is very complex, since it is being built over the new underground railway terminus. Instead of cars arriving at ground level and driving up into the car park, an external “flying ramp” takes vehicles up to the top floor, where they filter down into the parking structure.
I was given the chance to comment on this design a few years ago with Mary Smith and some of her colleagues from Walker Parking Consultants, and although we couldn’t see the benefit from this design, British Airports Authority was convinced that it was a good idea.
Not Quite the Oscars
I told you last time that the British Parking Association Show PARKEX will be a high point of the UK calendar, but before that we held the annual British Parking Awards lunch on March 10 where awards were handed out for “The Best of” in 10 categories covering both car park buildings, services and people involved in the business of parking. The awards are now in their fifth year and there are 80 entries for the 10 categories. The “people” awards cover people at all levels in the business and this year’s list senior managers and parking attendants working on the ground. It should be a good event, I will report back on the winners next time.

Gadgets and Gizmos
Many years ago, I had a job that involved me in breaking parking systems. I worked in London for the agency that authorized trials of new parking equipment. People would come to me with weird and wonderful new ideas for managing parking, and I would work out how the system could be cheated, bypassed or broken, and then put the bits in a box and send them back with a polite note explaining why we not could allow the idea to be used. (To my shame, I did reduce one inventor to tears.) Therefore, I have always been interested in new parking equipment ideas, and in the last few weeks, we have had two contenders for the market appear in London.
The first of these, from Canada, is a photo-violation meter, which records the vehicle as it parks and automatically sends a violation message to base if the vehicle over-stays. On the downside, the two-bay meter costs about the same as a pay-and-display machine, which can easily control 50-plus bays.
The other newcomer is a smartcard-based system from Parsa in Argentina. The system uses smartcards as payment identification and street-side meters or terminals where the driver can make their payment. Although new to us, this system is well-proven and has been in use in a number of cities for more than a decade.
Given that the theme of the British Parking Association’s Parkex show and conference in April is new technology, it will be interesting to see how these are received.

Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent in Europe. He can be reached at

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