Parking Tales from Big Ben: The Common Sense Waffle


Parking Tales from Big Ben: The Common Sense Waffle


Anyone who reads my monthly waffle will have realized that I am not a great fan of electric vehicles. They promised less pollution than the gas guzzler they would replace, but quite a lot of evidence suggests the opposite may be true. They promised cheap, but they can cost more to run than a diesel. 


Perhaps the most telling thing is they simply cannot do what their carbon-powered predecessors do. Run around town, drive 20 miles to and from work each day, they’re fine. But if you want to go from London to Edinburgh, prepare for pain. First you will have to find at least one working charger; take a good book because you are going to spend an awful lot of your day replacing the electrons in your battery to complete the journey. JVH has written a lot in the past about a neighbor who bought an EV, but held on to his ICE for the things that sparky couldn’t do. I am getting to the same place. We have two cars, and although an EV would meet most of our needs, most of the time it just wouldn’t cut it as a total replacement.


Or maybe not. Just when I was getting ready to lock in my prejudices, along comes solid state batteries. Now, I won’t pretend that I understand the science, but it seems that these new gismos will mean that future EVs will be able to match their ICE predecessors both in range and, more or less, refuelling time. Still not clear whether or not they will be greener and/or cheaper to run, but getting a sparky car with the same utility as my diesel wagon will go a long way to making the change possible for me and, I suspect, many others.


We work in an industry where we are high on most people’s “person I would most like to stomp into the ground” list. It’s sad, and I wonder if many of our haters ever stop to think what would happen if we weren’t there? Of course not. I remember when I was a child, as President of the British Parking Association, being castigated by a retailer because my members dared to charge his customers to use their parking, which should, of course, be free. When I pointed out that my members were also running businesses and it would be equally valid for him and his ilk to offer my members’ customers a free tin of beans each time they parked, to support our business, he sulked.


All that being true we can sometimes be our own worst enemies. There has long been a move in this country to discourage people from buying and using more polluting vehicles by pricing parking differentially. Now, I honestly don’t think that my local millionaire is going to trade in his Bentley for a Prius because he has got to pay an extra couple of pounds to park, but God loves a trier. To this end Bath and North-East Sommerset District Council have updated their parking tariff. They now have a tariff with 198, yes that’s 198, separate tariff steps, depending on the type of engine and length of stay. 


Now, as I understand it, to operate this system at all, users must enter their vehicle registration via a QR code on the sign, and presumably a smart phone. The system then calculates your vehicle’s emissions using government data and calculates the fee due. It seems therefore, no phone, no park, which I believe is unlawful. It seems that, if the system can’t find your car, they charge the maximum fee, which I think is also legally dubious since the driver is being penalized for a deficiency in the parking system. And of course, any error and the driver gets a citation. No wonder they hate us.


Speaking of QR codes, we have a small but growing problem of fraud. Operators sometimes put a QR code on a sign to serve as a portal to a payment system. The user scans the QR code which opens an app which allows a payment. The only problem is scammers have got wise to this and have started replacing the official QR code with one of their own. The customer scans the bogus QR code and is directed to a wholly believable website. They enter their payment details and, if they are lucky make a payment to a false account. . Often this is only discovered when a parker who thinks that they have paid then gets citation. 


However, the scammers seem to be getting greedier, and recently a lady who thought that she was paying for a few hours parking at her local station found that £13,000 had been taken out of her account. The train operating company seemed rather more concerned with the potential reputational damage than helping the poor lady, and the police were little better, simply documenting the event. 


It seems that the number of such offences are growing quite quickly and more than doubling in two years. I do feel more and more that if an operator wants to “improve their service” (save money) by introducing technology without adequately investigating and mitigating the risks to users, they should indemnify their customers against the fraud that they, the operator, have facilitated through an underdeveloped system.

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest, Parking Tales from Big Ben
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