Going Dutch, Airports, and Bad Boys
by Peter Guest
I suppose the big news item this side of the water is what has happened to WPS, the Dutch PARCS vendor. Its parent company, Royal Imtech N.V., filed for bankruptcy in Rotterdam Court in the Netherlands, and was declared bankrupt effective Aug. 13, 2015, placing a big question mark over the survival of its subsidiaries, including WPS.
However, it was subsequently announced that the Marine and Nordic Divisions, which includes WPS, have been sold to Dutch private equity firm Egeria, which manages about $2 billion of assets. The press announcements from WPS management are very upbeat, with statements containing phrases such as “fighting spirit” and “belief” and “loyalty,” and “looking to a long-term future.”
Does anyone know of an example where a private equity firm has invested in a “fire sale” business like this for the long-term?
Airports and Bad Boys
Bitching about airports seems to be flavor of the month here in the UK. It’s the holiday season and, predictably, the newspapers are running stories about rip-off airport charges and dodgy deals. Where to start?
Used to be that at British airports, passengers could be dropped off outside the terminal building, and the odd “bobby” or two would wander up and down to make sure no cars were left unattended or parked for too long.
At Heathrow, the drop-off is still there, and at Luton; although the drop-off has been moved into a carpark, it’s still free. Stansted has gone one further; there is free drop-off at the carpark, where you can use the shuttle bus to get to the terminal, for free. However, if you want to drop-off at the terminal, it’s $4 for 10 minutes, and then $4 per minute thereafter − ouch!
There also has been the inevitable scam at Gatwick, where a valet parking company has been caught leaving holiday-makers’ cars in fields.
The cars were parked with their doors unlocked, windows open, and keys left in an unguarded box. Tariq Wasi and Imran Shahid, Directors of Airport Parking Ltd., pleaded guilty to eight counts of misleading consumers, and were fined $9,000 for the offenses when they appeared in court.
Their Gatwick Airport-based business promised that customers’ cars would be securely parked in an area staffed 24 hours a day. However, the reality was that cars were found with windows down and doors unlocked in fields near the airport.
Councillor David Barling of West Sussex County Council said:
“Our Trading Standards service has been doing a lot of work to stamp out these types of rogue firms. We regularly receive complaints from customers who have suffered thefts from their cars, damage to their vehicles, and excess mileage put on the odometer while their car had been in the care of some [parking] companies.”
In addition to the fine, Magistrates ordered Wasi and Shahid to pay costs of $1,600, a victim surcharge of $200, and court costs of $270.
This keeps happening, both at Gatwick and elsewhere, even though the airport runs a “buy with confidence” program for approved and vetted off-airport parking operators.
I guess that it always will, as long as stupid people with cars worth tens of thousands of dollars are willing to take a chance on saving few dollars on parking, rather than buy from a vetted, approved supplier.
Meanwhile, a businessman living in a $4-million gated mansion has been caught using false number plates on his cars to avoid parking fines. Julian King, 43, further evaded detection by concealing the vehicles’ tax discs to stop officers from obtaining the owner’s details.
In late August, Magistrates in Brighton, East Sussex, ordered him to pay a total of nearly $12,000 after he was traced as the owner of a Porsche, Bentley, Range Rover, Mercedes, Audi and BMW vehicles − all involved in the scam.
A police spokesman said: “This was not a case of someone trying to get away with a quick-stop somewhere they shouldn’t or spending a little too long shopping. This was calculated fraud − pure and simple − and it has been rightfully punished.”
King used car number plates not registered to a Porsche or Bentley so that he could park on double-yellow lines, in residents-only bays, and in loading bays. It meant he could leave his car without fear of receiving a ticket. King was found guilty of three charges of fraudulently using a vehicle registration mark and one of possessing an article in connection with fraud.
The court was told that King carried out the fraud at least 45 times over five years. Tax discs on the vehicles were folded over to hide the fact that the registrations on the discs were different from those on the plates.
Police said King had used three old registration plates not assigned to vehicles he owned. This meant that when unpaid tickets were followed up, the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) could not link the vehicles to the suspect. The DVLA has now revoked the offending plates.
The offenses came to light in May 2014 when a woman reported that she had received 15 parking tickets for a car that was not hers, but had a similar license plate number to hers. King was fined $5,760 and ordered to pay costs of $3,000, compensation of $3,000 and a victim surcharge of $200.
Now, if each of those 45 parking tickets was valued at, say, $150, and recognizing that it’s likely that he got ticketed only about 1 time in 10, King got a pretty good deal − possibly paying about 20% of what he saved.
Not that I have a nasty, evil and sadistic mind, but there is a piece of English Law that, in certain circumstances, when a vehicle is used in committing a crime, allows the court to take the vehicle. Six top-spec cars taken off to be sold in the next police auction? That might get his attention; and that of anyone else thinking of doing the same thing.
It all seems to be bad boys today. Over in Australia, in early summer, David Edmeades, Enforcement Manager at Perth parking company Smart Parking, got 18 months in the penal colony for embezzling about $70,000 of customers’ money over nearly three years.
And, finally, I recently bought and read “The Shepherd’s Crown,” the very last “Discworld” novel from the late Sir Terry Pratchett, in just about one sitting. For those of you who don’t know, Pratchett invented the surreal Discworld and wrote more than 20 novels and other books about the place before finally succumbing to what he called “the embuggerance of Alzheimer’s disease” earlier this year.
The book, published in the UK in late August, was a joy as always, but by the time I had reached the end, I was near to tears.
Why? Simply because of the realization that there will be no more, ever.
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 email@example.com.