Bailiffs, Math, the Tower, ‘Smart City,’ and Ethics
by Peter Guest
Some of you may know that I have a day job as a parking consultant. Recently my phone rang; it was someone from a “bailiff” company looking for some help/advice. In the UK, certificated bailiffs are, for want of an easier description, court-appointed debt collectors.
If you don’t pay your parking ticket, the council gets a warrant from the court. They pass this to a bailiff, who comes knocking on your door and can seize your property to sell to cover the parking fine.
The bailiffs contacted me because two of their municipal clients had fired their parking managers to save money. The “juniors” left in the office didn’t know how to do the paperwork, and the courts were rejecting the warrant applications.
Get rid of the parking manager for towns of this size, you probably save about $50K a year — less the redundancy pay out, less any increased pay for the guy who is now trying to do a higher-level job. The lost value of the tickets that are not being collected is about $250K a year. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
UK Parking Control (UKPC) operates 1,400 sites nationwide where you can park for free, but can stay for only, say, an hour. This system is often used by stores where they want free customer parking but to keep out local workers. Stay longer, and it mails you a ticket.
Problem was, UKPC, or some of its staff, started to change the time-stamps on the pictures and issue tickets to people who hadn’t over-stayed. Now you might get away with this if you wind the clock back 10 minutes, but three hours?
Jade Beeby, who arrived at a UKPC lot at 12:40 p.m., got a £60 ticket that said she had come in at 9:35 a.m., more than three hours earlier. She gave up arguing and paid up.
However, the killer was when Neil Horton parked for 15 minutes and got a ticket saying that he stayed two hours. The giveaway was that in both before and after pictures, his car was surrounded by the same vehicles, including one that had its trunk open in both shots.
The grandly named National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, part of the City of London Police, which leads on fraud, is investigating.
Trips to the Tower may follow!
Now this was a pretty dumb attempt at crime, but there are a couple of things that I don’t understand: The money goes to the company, and all the staff do is process the images, so why would people who get no obvious benefit from making the changes cheat?
The British Parking Association is waffling on about standards, and as far as I know, it has not taken any action to suspend UKPC. My view is that if you suspect a fire, you assume that it is a fire, and take the appropriate action to stop it until it’s proven not to be. The much maligned Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (our DMV) agrees with my view; the DVLA has pulled the plug on UKPC’s access to their records.
Some Thoughts on the EPA
I went to the 17th European Parking Association Congress in Berlin a few months back. This is the once-every-two-years grand European industry get-together and “bun fight,” which moves round from country to country. (The Dutch Parking Association VEXPAN will host the 18th EPA Congress Sept. 20-22, 2017, in Rotterdam.)
Some 500-plus delegates from more than 32 countries attended. As I listened to the keynote speeches — industry heavyweights with serious stuff to say — I couldn’t help but think that I heard it all before. For sure, the jargon had changed, but it does rather seem that we go round the same track again and again. I guess the key difference is that first time round, we were talking about concepts; this time, it’s products!
A good thing about the EPA Congress is that it has a competition that pulls in entries from all over Europe. It really is a buzz when, at the end of the day, you are told that your garage is the best in Europe (I know: One of my projects was runner-up a couple of years ago).
There are other awards for refurb, public space, technology, and marketing and communications. I helped write the specs for the competitions, and it really does push quality when you are competing to be the best in Europe.
Talking About the So-Called Smart City
I worry about the concept of the “smart city.”
I am fine with the idea that technology can help us all to provide and operate services better. However, I really do believe that there is a danger that the people involved forget the first rule of parking: It’s all about the customers.
I have no problem taking advantage of new ways of doing things, but this should never become the only option. Some bean-counter decides that he can save a few cents by doing away with the older systems, and suddenly the added value service becomes a bar to use.
Cities are trying to move to cash-free parking. This is not for the customers; it’s so they, the cities, can save money. About 15% of people in the UK don’t have a credit card or a computer, and about 40% don’t use their cellphone to access the Internet.
Go to pay–by-phone or pay by credit card as the only way to pay, and you piss off a lot of citizens. You also, de facto, make ownership of a credit/debit card and cellphone necessary to use a car.
Proper English Gentlemen?
Ethics is something that rarely makes the headlines here in the UK (although, see above). We like to think that we are all English Gentlemen, and wouldn’t ever do anything improper. This is, of course, rubbish.
On more than one occasion, I have seen suppliers that have pursued a quick buck without thinking through the longer-term consequences to their reputations and businesses.
I remember being retained to advise on procuring a new PARC system. I recommended excluding one company on the basis of the demonstrable chasm between what it said it did, and what it actually did.
My client, however, added the company to the list, and surprise, surprise, it won the bid. And a week after the contract was awarded, the company tried to up the price by claiming, incorrectly, that the specs excluded some essential part of the required system.
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.