Scotland, Abu Dhabi, and Her Majesty the Queen
Some people just don’t get it. Parking that operates under rules means you obey the rules. You’re not special; you don’t have an exemption (unless you're the queen, that is).
Carly Mackie from Dundee, Scotland thought different. The 28-year-old fashion designer parked outside her mother’s home, ignoring signs saying that it was residents-only parking, and ignored the daily tickets (more than 200 penalty notices, in total) that she got. She is special, above the rules.
Eventually, Vehicle Control Services, which manages the spaces, had had enough and went to the Sheriffs court to get its money, after apparently offering her a permit at $50 a month, which she refused.
In Dundee Sheriff’s Court, Mackie contended that, in Scotland, such charges were illegal and unenforceable. Sheriff (think “Junior Judge,” not “the Wild West”) George Way disabused her, saying:
“Ms. Mackie had entirely misdirected herself on both the law and the contractual chain in this case. She knew perfectly well what the signs displayed and that she was parking in breach of the conditions. She stated that parking charges were illegal and unenforceable in Scotland, and that she could park where she liked as her father’s guest.”
No, said the Sheriff, “the defender [defendant] is not the tenant. [Her] car was an additional burden on the parking facilities, and she was the same as any other interloper.”
He added: “Parking is not only an amenity but a valuable commodity in modern life. Ms. Mackie had been parking in an area reserved for residents when she visited the property rented by her mother and step-father, since at least 2015.
As I have said before, the British law about parking on private land has become a bugger’s mess, ever since the government improved it. The situation was further complicated by a difference in legislation between Scotland and the rest of Britain.
As the law stands in Scotland, the law in the rest of the UK allows such tickets to be enforced against the vehicle owner, but it does not apply north of the border. Any parking action is a contract between the driver and the operator, and if Ms. Mackie had kept quiet, they probably would have had no basis for their case.
I happened to be at a trade show when this story broke, and in the booth next door was a specialist law firm that pursues this type of case. Their judgement was that if she had kept her mouth shut, the case would have collapsed.
As it was, Ms. Mackie has the dubious distinction of having got Britain’s — possibly the world’s — biggest ever parking fine at just under $34,500, including court charges.
I have just spent a week in Abu Dhabi, UAE. It’s two and a bit years since I last went, and I am always amazed at just how quickly things develop and change there. Here in the UK, we started talking about building a road tunnel to bypass Stonehenge about the time of Victoria’s jubilee, and the government has just published a plan that everyone seems to object to because it solves only 99% of what they perceive to be the problem.
In Abu Dhabi, when I was there in the late noughties, they were taking about bypassing a particular traffic bottleneck with a tunnel. Five years from decision in principle, the tunnel is open and operating; job done.
As some of you know, I am immensely proud of the simple fact that I designed and procured the emirate’s MAWAQiF street-parking program. Starting with a clean sheet of paper and working with a small team of people, we put together what was then a state-of-the-art, street program for somewhere north of 70,000 street spaces, with another 10,000 or so in underground carparks.
The world changes, and someone else got to implement the project when the government moved it from the municipality to the new, but ultimately short-lived Department of Transport. Going back to Abu Dhabi, it’s interesting to see just how things turned out. Like all things, there is good and bad.
People seem to be OK with paying, but the charge is way too low and hasn’t been increased since the program went live. As a result, the idea of marinating enough free space to make parking easy has been lost, and one can see that double-parking is beginning to creep in again.
To address this shortfall, the DOT has commissioned some “temporary” parking decks. These may not be the worst designed parking structures that I have ever seen, but they are certainly in the top two. The decks are over-engineered to a ridiculous extent, and yet what I think is meant to be a safety barrier on the upper level appears to be lightweight pedestrian railings bolted on to the deck surface.
The program has been extended, somewhat opportunistically, to newly developed areas outside the city center, which I kind of understand. If parking is controlled from Day One, bad habits don’t get a chance to develop.
Some of the numbers quoted to me were quite surprising. There is a perception that everyone pays the fine. Just about credible, perhaps, in such a highly regulated environment where you can’t re-license your car at the end of the year until all traffic tickets are paid.
However, that does seem to ignore a few obvious loopholes.
The income breakdown is interesting, too. I’m told that 80% of income comes from fines, with just 20% from payments. I have always worked on a 50/50 split as a good benchmark, but I guess that the figure makes more sense when you realize that the fine is 100-times the hourly charge.
Wind the fine back to a more reasonable 10-times multiplier, and the enforcement is suspiciously lightweight. And I would want to take a hard look at the enforcement agency’s claim of a 25% detection rate.
Why was I there in Abu Dhabi? A big project, a very big project. A 30-year franchise to run a big lump of the city is just about to be let, and, guess what? Someone remembered that I know a little about parking!
And finally, how cool is this?