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“Hoovering” Parking Meters and a “Common Data Standard”

April 23, 2019

Peter Guest

People stealing money from meters hasn’t really been an issue here for a while. So, I was surprised to see that the crimms have got a new wrinkle. In the past, they used a truck with a grab to pull the meters out, like extracting a tooth, and took them away to cut open. This went out of fashion when a truck carrying a load of meters got pulled by the police and the people on board went to work for the government for a while. 


Now, a new gang has popped up with a novel approach. They smash the machine in situ and suck the money out with a vacuum cleaner! Leicester in the midlands, and Kensington and Chelsea in London seem to be the main targets. K&C has lost about $150K and Leicester have spent about $70K reinforcing and repairing machines. Other cities are now reporting similar problems. 


The council response is predictably lazy. They are talking about ending cash payment, leaving pay by phone and card only. That is, inconvenience the public rather than put more resources into catching the malefactor. So, when is a public service not a public service? 


It is a fantasy to suggest or assume that drivers have, and are prepared to use, a mobile phone or credit card to pay for parking. They don’t, but everyone has cash. There is an arrogance inherent in techy people that assumes that “if I have it and can use it, so can everyone else;” not true and never will be.


 


Handing Out Awards


Meanwhile, as I write this, we are just a week away from the latest round of British Parking Awards, reported elsewhere in this month’s journal, and you will have just celebrated the first year of your own awards at PIE. I am so glad that John has, after years of badgering, decided to do this. At one level, it’s just a bit of fun, but, and it’s a very important but, at some point, the process takes on a life of its own. Companies see that people who win get bragging rights and can get more business because they are “the best”. 


I was a judge at “The Brits” for about a decade and saw the entries go from something that the office junior got lumbered with to a serious, serious process with image consultants and PR companies and entrants spending serious bucks to get a well-planned and attractive entry in front of the judges. Of course, I am a cynical b*****d and no matter how glossy, if it’s not good enough it’s not winning. 


Most people got this and over that decade something quite exciting happened. People “got” that quality wins and the standard of the services and products being offered steadily improved. Better services, better machines and products, better structures, you get the picture. So, I hope that all has gone well at the first PIE’s and looking forward a few years, I think that John will be able to look back at an upswing in quality and give himself a small pat on the back.


 


Lost in Translation


Meanwhile back in Brexit Land, The Parking (Code of Practice) Bill meanders through the parliamentary process to become law. Like Brexit, this is an empty box. The law will establish a framework of control over parking on private land, but says nothing about what that framework will be or how it will work. The problems with the present situation, exacerbated by bad legislation from the present government, are obvious; I am very far from convinced that creating a vague “something” with no substance will advance matters.


Over the years there have been numerous attempts to create a common language for parking, you would be surprised how easy it is to get confused when switching between “English” and “American”. To further this ambition, in 2017, the BPA, EPA and IPMI got together in what is now known as The Alliance for Parking Data Standards (APDS). I wonder how many of you have heard about this?


Now, at one level, I think that this is a jolly good idea, a bit like Esperanto, which was invented as the world’s lingua-franca. But who has heard of Esperanto? The most optimistic figure for users is about 3 hundredths of one percent of the world’s population. That’s because people communicate mostly with local people using a local dialect developed for their specific environment’s needs. 


I recently had to “translate” a document written part in English, part in “Canadian English” part in “Indian English” and part in “Arabic English”. Although nominally the same language, local usage has evolved to meet local needs rendered them so different that the document was just about unintelligible.


My worry is that there is a very good reason why data is collected and presented differently: to meet local needs and, sometimes, legal requirements, and I fear that either this exercise could trivialize the process creating a lowest common denominator, or attempt to become all encompassing, and in so doing, become totally unwieldy. I hope that I am wrong.


 


Parking and Riding


I have just returned from a holiday in the beautiful and unspoilt County of Yorkshire. I do urge anybody visiting post-Brexit Britain to take a couple of days to visit. The City of York, once the capital of Viking England, is an ancient walled city; a center of employment, shopping and a major tourist attraction. The city was drowning in cars and, I guess, just like many American cities, couldn’t build a major new transportation system to link the suburbs and villages to the center. 


The solution that they came up with that works amazingly well is bus park and ride. Large parking areas have been built on the edge of the city and linked to the center by buses. Each bus route has bus lanes and bus gates to pass the congested pinch points. Bus journeys are about half that of driving and a day’s parking and bus ride costs about the same as a couple of hours parking in the center. 


Although the scheme was developed for tourists, it has proved so popular with workers that it has had to be expanded and expanded again. Not perhaps the perfect solution, but worth looking at for some places. Remember one bus occupies about the same road space as three cars and carries about 40 times as many people; and if we can drop traffic flows by just 10 percent, then the world will be a better place.


And finally, from the government that brought you shipping contracts with companies that don’t have ships and are planning to expand an airport, although their own data says it will create criminally high pollution in the surrounding areas, a new winner. My government is actively deporting legal Filipino elderly care workers, even though these ladies and gents are doing an amazing job. There is a shortage of people willing to do such challenging work for such low pay, so the government is mounting a recruitment campaign…. using Filipinos in the adverts. You couldn’t make it up!



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