Lots of Faces
Sad, Happy, Concerned, Surprised!
By Peter Guest
I recently wrote of our UK government’s rather strange plan to make Britain a better place to park.
In 2004, the current law came into effect, which gave the responsibility for parking enforcement to the local councils and expanded the powers to deal with minor traffic violations, such as making a banned turn and being in a bus lane.
Councils took on the new duties, and of course, looked at ways of doing the job in the most cost effective way possible. In many circumstances, this proved to be using a camera-equipped vehicle to record the offense and then send a ticket in the post.
Drivers who broke the law (aka criminals) thought that this was unfair, and have successfully lobbied Parliament to ban use of such sneaky, underhanded behavior. And they have largely succeeded. Camera-based parking enforcement will be largely banned.
The government has reluctantly conceded that dangerous parking outside schools and parking in a bus lane can be effectively deterred only by this method, but I do note that the law, as framed, would allow them to ban this later.
The government has a bit of a record here. A few years ago, they stopped funding speed- and red-light- cameras on the grounds that these were unfair to drivers who sped and ran red lights. The result was that people started dying in accidents caused by speeders and red-light runners, and they had to switch all the cameras back on.
Now, some will argue that people don’t die because someone parks inconsiderately; well, yes, they do. Talk to anyone in emergency services, and they will soon tell you the story of the ambulance that didn't make it or the fire truck that couldn’t reach the scene, because of an jerk that put their convenience above someone else’s life. I wonder what the body count will be here before the government thinks again.
Oh, yeah, and in the same law, they made it mandatory to give an over-staying driver 10 minutes grace before writing a ticket. The reason given for this is to stop aggressive enforcers from writing a ticket immediately a driver goes into the red.
The evidence that this is actually an issue follows …
It’s the British Parking Awards again, and I have just come back from the lunch and ceremony to tell the story. Once again, I was a judge, and once again, I drove more than 300 miles to see an entry that should never have been allowed to see the light of day.
In what world does a carpark with water ponding on the decks, rusted pipes and grills, and stairs with finish lifting off after a year ever get considered as a serious contender? The council that owns it decided to enter it. I would have asked the contractor for a refund.
Anyhow, there are good-news BPA stories.
The best new carpark is good. A few years ago, another judge and I went to the new 4,000 space facility at Heathrow T5. It was dire, and we “binned” the entry. It’s 2015, and the new parking facility at The Queen’s Terminal has got just about everything right. It looks good, it’s well-built, and it works very well indeed – a worthy BPA winner.
Now, the philosophy of the awards is to promote the idea of quality and create a mind-set where people in the parking industry actively seek an award. This is working, and entries are getting better entrants actually delivering demonstrable quality.
This was demonstrated with a vengeance this year, when what was Britain’s biggest parking company, NCP, walked away with two awards. NCP, frankly, does not have a good press – too many instances of poor service and low standards. However, this year, NCP got two solid awards.
One was for the program that they have implemented to re-light all 400-ish carparks with LED lighting. None of its competitors have taken this step over here in the UK, and they are to be congratulated for taking the initiative. Second, Shirley Lee, a member of the NCP staff in London, got the nod for Best Frontline Service, i.e., putting the customer first. Her boss summed it up by saying that he wanted to clone her!
As a judge, I get to bring a guest to the “bunfight,” and this year, the (un)lucky person was one John Van Horn, PT Editor. Who knows, perhaps in a year or two we will have the first round of the U.S. American Parking Awards (copyright this name and get the web domain name registered, John, quickly).
Meanwhile, back in the Court of Appeal in London, we are all on tenterhooks while the “law lords” decide whether a parking ticket on private land is a reasonable charge (legal) or a fine levied without recourse to law (illegal).
In 2013, chip-shop owner Barry Beavis got an £85 [$128] ticket for overstaying in his local free shopping center carpark. He is challenging an earlier County Court decision that ruled a parking ticket issued in the city by enforcer Parking Eye must stand.
At issue in the Court of Appeal is whether it is reasonable and fair to charge £85 for 2-hours-plus, when 2 hours is free. Either way, there is a big, big legal issue, and it may all end in tears.
Allow the appeal, and management of private parking falls apart. Let the charge stand, and the UK Bill of Rights, which basically allows us a fair trial before receiving a penalty, is holed below the water line. No good outcome, I fear.
In the past, as a parking consultant, I have done quite a lot of work with Empark, No. 4 in terms of size in Europe, and I have to say, pretty good at what they do. The company is privately owned and, on the Iberian Peninsula, their home territory, they are bigger than all their competitors put together.
They have a presence in Turkey and Poland, and here in the UK, they have a small but high-quality presence, mostly in airports, which is just beginning to take off.
I know the guys who own the company – they are totally into parking – and so I was really surprised to hear that Vinci Park Group, the subsidiary of the French mega-company, has submitted a $972 million bid for Empark’s holding company, based in Portugal.
Entirely a personal opinion, and I am sure that Vinci would do well, but I kind of hope the guys in Lisbon say no. Empark has something different, and I can’t help but feel that inside Vinci – excellent though they are – Empark will get subsumed into the bigger business.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.