“People’s Parking’ Program

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“People’s Parking’ Program

 When I tell people that I work in parking, there are always a few raised eyebrows. The main reason for this is that I don’t have a particularly good reputation where parking is concerned. In fact, every accident I have had in my car has only ever involved stationary objects – the last being my own garden fence, which I sideswiped while parking on my own drive! 

So it came as quite a surprise to me, as well as others, that I have actually ended up working in parking. However, I’m pleased to say that since the installation of parking sensors, I am considerably better at parking. 
Now, my path to parking was not that straightforward. It certainly wasn’t my childhood ambition (that was, in fact, to be a deep-sea diver). I originally did a degree in molecular and cellular biology and was working on research into obesity, when I contracted meningococcal septicaemia on Christmas Day 1997. This unfortunately resulted in the amputation of both my legs and hands. 
Not being able to return to scientific research, I retrained as a journalist and started working for my local TV news station. It was while working for the news that I became more and more involved in transport and raising awareness of the inequalities that exist for disabled people. My most memorable news report was one I did on my local bus service, where none of the buses would let me on as I was a wheelchair user! 
However, although I loved working as a journalist, I wanted to concentrate more of my efforts on improving transport for people with disabilities, as I realized that without good transport links, it is very difficult for disabled people to access education and employment. I therefore took up a position with a charity, where I campaigned for better motoring rights for disabled people. 
It was during my first few years working for the charity that I struck up a relationship with the British Parking Association and the International Parking Community. I like to think that I have taught many people in parking how carparks can be improved for disabled people. 
(Because of all the work I have done improving transport for disabled people, I was delighted to be awarded an MBE in last year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours. It was a really proud day for me and my family, when I received the award from Prince Charles.) 
As a disabled driver, I have to plan all my journeys in meticulous detail, and that includes parking. Although there have been massive improvements in carparks in the UK, there is still a lot of work to be done before I can park in every one. My main problem is entering and exiting and paying when there aren’t alternative payment methods. 
However, I also realized that it wasn’t just disabled people who could do with knowing what facilities a carpark has. There are all kinds of different requirements that people need to know. This was the idea behind my new accreditation program called People’s Parking. 
It recognizes which carparks have facilities for disabled people, parents with children, people who drive electric vehicles, those who drive light commercial vehicles/camper vans, and those who drive from wheelchair-accessible vehicles. 
In addition, the location of a carpark is essential knowledge, and so those that are great for shopping and those that are situated at transport interchanges are also identified. In addition, it can be helpful for everyone to know if pay-by-phone and a pre-book service are available, so these are also accredited by the program. 
Finally, People’s Parking is not just about motorists. Many cyclists struggle to find somewhere safe and secure to park their bicycles, so carparks that provide this service are recognized too. People looking for specific facilities can search for their perfect carpark using the find-a-carpark feature on its website (www.peoplesparking.org).
I believe that an accreditation program improving parking for all kinds of different people is the way forward. I’ve always said that a carpark that is good for disabled people is good for everyone, and this accreditation program gives good carparks a way to promote their facilities. 
People’s Parking has been going for only a few months, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response I’ve received by the industry. This is only a UK-based program at the moment, but I see no reason why it can’t go further afield. And if disabled people the world over could park with ease, I would feel it was a job well done. 
 
Helen Dolphin, MBE, is an Independent Mobility Consultant in the UK. Contact her at helen@peoplesparking.org.
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Helen Dolphin
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