Notes from Big Ben…


Notes from Big Ben…

Our glorious leader, JVH, asked for my perspective on a story that he featured recently where a city council decided to stop charging people for parking ’round a polling station during an election. He got pretty wound up about this, but compared with us, you’re not even in the same league.
Britain has one of the best records in the world for road safety, and this is, in part, because many years ago we introduced mandatory annual roadworthiness checks on all cars more than 3 years old. Year by year, this test has become more rigorous, and the overall quality and safety of the vehicle fleet have improved. Despite this, a few years ago, the government decided that in order to encourage more people to vote, drivers would be allowed to use cars with roadworthiness certificates to travel to and from the polls on election day. Democracy is a good thing, but I didn’t know it could fix cars!
Desert Song
I just got back from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where I have been helping an old friend in moving the city toward implementing a comprehensive city-wide parking management program. A place such as this presents some rather unusual challenges, not least for the parking equipment industry, since the local traffic control center has recorded temperatures of more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit inside the cabinets of some of the equipment.
With a population of 925,000, the UAE’s capital city occupies an area of some 26,000 square miles. Some time ago, they built some underground car parks, but the streets are free and enforcement is minimal, so the car parks remain about two-thirds empty. Things have got pretty bad with double and treble parking, blocked roads and drivers even buying lock posts to illegally reserve spaces outside their home and workplace.
Starting a project such as this is a challenge. They recognize that they have to do something, but they have no experience. This means that everything has to be explained and justified from first principles, and things that I have taken for granted for 30 years, they pull me up on and demand I explain everything, which is good for the soul, but can be frustrating.
Partway through the visit, they decided that I should make a presentation to “The Man,” and I was duly wheeled into an office that was bigger than my house. I was put on my best behavior and told that under no circumstances should my presentation take more than 20 minutes. Three hours later, the presentation finished and the argument won. Abu Dhabi will have a parking management program, and I hope to be able to share my experiences over the coming months via this column.
Going Up, Going Down
Britain is just about unique in Europe in that we build most of our car park structures aboveground. Just about everywhere else in Europe it is taken for granted that a car park is an underground building. I have never really understood this. Certainly there are some quite spectacular designs in Europe, but equally, we have some good architecture in aboveground buildings. Most people, when asked, don’t like parking in a hole in the ground and, of course, it costs more (two to three times more) to go down rather than up. It will be interesting to see whether, as European companies become more active in the UK, things will change. I would be interested to have some feedback from a US perspective; what do you think?
Going Dutch
The next big event over here is the biennial Intertraffic show in Amsterdam. (I am not quite sure when John will be publishing this column, so the show may be all done and dusted by the time you read this.) I will be spending a couple of days there because of my involvement with the European Parking Association and to host a visit by a party from Abu Dhabi.
I should mention that Amsterdam has just gone live on its mobile phone project. I think this is now the biggest European city to launch such a system. I understand that the system they have chosen requires parkers to use their phones, in effect as a remote terminal, to get a ticket from the pay station. It will be interesting to see how it goes.
The European Parking Association, incidentally, is an affiliation of the national parking associations of Europe. It publishes its own magazine, Parking Trend International, and organizes a biennial parking congress and awards ceremony, which will next take place in 2007 in Madrid. The EPA has reached a point where it needs to move forward, and at our meeting in Amsterdam, we shall be looking at ways to grow and develop the organization.
I must get a plug in for our own British Parking Association Parkex show and conference at the end of April in London. This year’s conference is focused on parking technology and includes presentations on payment systems, equipment standards, and many other bits and pieces of technology.
The Homer Simpson Award for Parking
I have decided to invent a new award for the parking industry, of which I shall be the sole arbiter and will occasionally award via this column. The first one goes to a UK municipality.
In earlier columns, I have talked about the problems we have with municipal enforcement and the perception, in some newspapers at least, that the whole thing is a money-making scam. Well, Homer is alive and working in parking.
A UK city, which shall remain nameless, decided to ban parking on a street. But rather than clear the street and properly mark out the restriction – we use a single or double yellow line painted parallel to the kerb – they simply went out one day and painted the line under the parked cars. When they had finished, they went back and wrote every car a ticket! Doh!

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

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