Notes from Big Ben Ö

Thereís a Storm Coming Ė and Itís a Big One

October, 2008

By Peter Guest

I have written many times about the ďnewĒ system of street parking we have in the UK. Itís loosely based on the Washington, DC, program: i.e., responsibility for enforcement went from the police to city hall.
It seemed like a good idea: The people who provided the parking would set the priorities for enforcement, and police resources would be freed up. Fines paid to the government would be replaced with charges that would be used to fund local projects. Drivers would be protected by an independent adjudicator, who would act as a final resort. All this operates in a regime where the council must not operate parking to raise money.
Thatís the theory, and some councils have certainly behaved with complete probity; others can best be compared with kids let loose in a candy shop. Anyone can make a mistake; thatís why the adjudicatorís there.
Unfortunately, itís becoming more and more obvious that some councils are working on the principle that anything they get away with is OK if it makes money. Indeed, some elected members are now admitting that their sole objective for parking is to make money, because that way they keep the local taxes down and get re-elected. They apparently havenít yet worked out that most of the people who are getting screwed by the parking regime also have a vote
Well, the motorists have had enough and, since the councils are ignoring the adjudicatorís warnings, drivers are now looking at other law to stop what they see as little more than municipal banditry. Public law says that councils must act properly; itís called wilful misconduct if they donít, and officers and councillors can do time if they deliberately donít obey the law.
In several towns, the police are now investigating complaints of wilful misconduct, because councils have carried on doing things that they have been told is unlawful by the adjudicators and even the government. If a council collects money that itís not entitled to and doesnít pay it back, itís false accounting. The councillors have to pay back the money from their own pockets, and if itís more than $4,000, they get kicked out.
Cases have been filed. Also, we have an independent local government ombudsman who investigates maladministration; heís in on the act. All in all, I think that in the next few months, there are going to be a lot of unhappy people in local government and more than a few vacancies in parking offices.
How to Commit Professional Suicide
in Three Easy Steps
My local council has just signed up to join the people described above. They put in parking meters in the local shopping street where none were needed. The law says they must consult, and the consultation must be meaningful and approached with an open mind. Unfortunately, they ordered the meters before the consultation so, Strike 1.
The signs and marking must comply with the law; they donít. Strike 2.
The local councillor responsible admitted the markings were wrong, tried to change them and still theyíre wrong, and said this doesnít affect the ability of the borough to collect money and write tickets. (This guy is on the adjudicatorís management committee whose annual report says, ďAuthorities may not enforce parking where the signs and markings do not conform to the law.Ē) Strike 3, youíre out.
When I told the local councillor that it was wrong, his public response was that I was talking rubbish. Iím pissed, and heís in trouble. He is an elected councillor; he has a duty to act lawfully; he hasnít, and he knows it. Heís going down.
Give them Enough Rope ...
Nothing to do with parking at all, but I couldnít let this pass. The tug of war used to be an Olympic sport (100 years ago), where the gold medal was regularly won for Great Britain by the London Police Force team. I think it was dropped as an Olympic sport because no one else saw any point trying to take them on.
Anyway, the sport is still a regular feature here at local fairs and highland games and so on. A couple of weeks ago at a gathering in Scotland, a tug of war was planned at a gathering, and the event was to be visited by HRH Prince Charles. Everything was ready, the two teams of athletes ready to entertain their royal guest for the honor of their clan. If only someone had remembered to bring a rope.
Itís Not Rocket Science
Oh, by the way, I reported a few months ago that a council near me had been told by the government that they must stop operating their parking because it was all illegal with the wrong signs and markings. They did stop, and have re-marked and re-signed the whole area. Now itís back in operation, and just as predicted, itís still wrong.
The other day I was thinking about the time, some 10 years ago, that I had spent working in metro Manila, a place that I really enjoyed. The local parking manager in Makati City told me that the biggest problem he had was people pulling guns on his staff when they tried to write a ticket. The very next thing, I see a story that a member of an elite government anti-smuggling squad in Manila has been arrested for pulling a gun on a parking attendant! Ah, the good old days.
And Finally ...
Dr. Clair McLean thinks it was unfair that she got a parking ticket. I agree; the car was left parked illegally after the restriction came into effect because the wheels had been stolen. Now I am sure that nowhere in the law or in the attendantís training does it say that vehicles without wheels are exempt from the regulations. So the attendant was only doing their job not being a total (you can fill in the next word).

Peter Guest is Parking Todayís correspondent in Europe. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.