Parking’s Not ‘Fine’ – An On-Going  Source of Controversy!

If you own (or borrow) a car at any point during your adult life, there is a very strong chance that you will receive a parking fine for some sort of parking violation. Fines may depend on where you live and the discretion of the traffic warden. Many indignant motorists appeal the charge knowing the possibility of success is unlikely. Although, it’s estimated that half of drivers who contest fines win. Parking fines have generated substantial revenue as councils in England collected £819 million in 2016/2017, a rise of 10pc from the previous year. Many motorists feel indignant about the perceived proportionality and fairness of these fines. However, free-for-all and indiscriminate parking must be tackled but has the time come to put some commonsense into the issue where over-zealous enforcement is evident. This article looks at the controversial issue of parking, and the revenue generated from it. It looks at some of the more unreasonable parking fines and concludes with the prospect that autonomous vehicles may well render future parking obsolete.

Possibly the first parking restrictions were put in place in Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria in c700 BC. The restrictions were due to their King Sennacherib (704 to 681 BC) and pertained to the sacred main processional route through Nineveh. The oldest parking signs ever discovered read “Royal Road – let no man decrease it”. The penalty for parking a chariot on this road was death followed by impaling outside one’s own home. [1]

 

Introduction

When a parking company issued an £85 parking ticket to Nicholas Bowen, little did it know who it was taking on?  Parking Eye went after Bowen for overstaying the 2-hour limit at a motorway service station and when he didn’t pay, decided to sue him. The alleged offence took place around midnight in a virtually deserted car park. The judge struck out the case and ordered to company to pay his costs of £1,500. Bowen is a renowned Barrister and Queens Counsel (QC) who has undertaken a raft of high-profile cases. Driving on the M4, Bowen pulled in to Welcome Break’s Membury service station intending to have a short nap as he was feeling quite tired. He claims he was so tired when he drove in that he didn’t notice any signs  that were there and subsequently discovered the only reference to 24/7 charging was in microscopic print in a different part of the car park requiring 20/20 vision or a magnifying glass to read it. When the claim came to court on August 2017, Private Eye was not in attendance and the judge ordered to company to pay Bowen’s costs. As the case had been by then struck out Bowen accused the company of “indulging in pernicious bullying tactics against motorists”. Whether it’s parking in a handicapped space or exposing yourself to your neighbours, nothing puts a damper on your day like a hefty parking ticket. Most of the time, the only option is to admit me culpa and pay the cash.

Whether it’s parking in a handicapped space or exposing yourself to your neighbours, nothing puts a damper on your day like a hefty parking ticket.

But occasionally a fine comes along that is just totally disproportionate to the ‘crime’ committed, or is issued for a ridiculous minor infraction. Parking is an important element for both mobility and quality of life in urban areas. Parking policy, which is a matter for local authorities in almost any country, is often a delicate political issue. Policy debates and public consultations on parking-related topics are usually dominated by emotions and feelings and are seldom based on evidence and /or facts. [2] Local authorities in England issue approximately 10 million parking tickets a year [3] with money generated from parking charges and fines rising by more than £60 million in 2016. The number of drivers fined by private companies in the UK has moreover risen by a quarter in the last year. [4] Many motorists feel indignant and piqued about the perceived proportionality and fairness of these fines. Over the past few years, successive governments have enacted various measures aiming to “put common sense back into the driving seat”. Civil enforcement of parking regulations reform within the Deregulation Act 2015 banned the use of ‘spy cars’. In the majority of circumstances providing new powers for parking adjudicators afforded motorists a mandatory 10 minute grace period and empowered residents to demand reviews of council parking in their area. Traffic signs regulations and general directives 2016 updated guidelines on areas subject to parking controls and the role of local authorities in tackling poor signage. Most recently, the Parking Places (Variation of Charges) received Royal Assent in April 2017, streamlining local authorities’ ability to reduce on and off street parking charges and mandating councils to consult localities before increasing local costs.

 Over the past few years, successive governments have enacted various measures aiming to “put common sense back into the driving seat”.

‘Out to Catch You’

We are told the raison d’être for parking fees, restrictions, fines and clamping is to ensure illegal parking does not cause obstruction for other motorists, businesses or impinge on pedestrian safety. Parking restrictions may often feel like they’re only there to catch you out, but they are crucial in order to keep our roads safe and running smoothly. Parking restrictions are mainly found in congested residential areas, around major attractions and in towns and city centres. Restrictions very much depend on where you are and what type of roads you wish to park on.

For example, in cities and towns there are heightened restrictions due to the nature and layout of each city – with both having lots of narrow or pedestrian streets, which make directing and maintaining traffic flow of paramount concern? [5] Whereas sensible parking restrictions are necessary there are many instances of clampers who operate in a covert fashion. For example, in Dublin, shop owners have complained they are losing business because clampers are ambushing customers seconds after they leave their cars. Dublin City Council revealed that 41,128 vehicles were clamped for illegal parking in the first 11 months of 2018. This was down from 52,686 in the same period in 2017. CCTV footage of one such incident depicts a clamper sitting in his van as a man parks a short distance behind him. As soon as the individual walks into the store, the parking enforcer emerges and quickly fits a clamp to his vehicle. The council ordered an investigation into clamping after two parking operators made protected disclosures to the local authority in 2017. They raised concerns including:

 

  • The alleged clamping of vehicles where there were no or inadequate road markings.
  • An inconsistent approach to parking enforcement, with a failure to enforce parking restrictions at certain city centre locations and against a certain category of vehicle.
  • Insufficient ‘grace time’ being afforded before enforcement action is taken.
  • The recording of vehicles being de-clamped before they were actually de-clamped in order to avoid a delayed de-clamp penalty.

 

The ‘Psycho Path’

Local parking authorities and enforcement is a constant source on controversy throughout the country. Basingstoke and Dean Borough Council accepted 95pc of appeals to on-street parking fines received in January and October, whilst Runneymede Council accepted just 9pc. Ambiguity moreover persists concerning local authorities generation of surpluses from parking fines, and the location of these funds within the broader budget of transport related services.

 

“Really, this is how you park over someone’s drive. Please return your licence to the box of cornflakes you got it from”.

According to the RAC Foundation, local authorities made a surplus of £756 million in 2015/16 despite councils being prohibited to utilize parking to drive profit. [6] However, there are those drivers who park with ‘gay abandon’, causing all sorts of inconvenience. There are few things more annoying than desperately looking for a parking space only to see that somebody has parked their car across two spaces. Also, parking in front of someone’s driveway can cause some people to put pen to paper. As one irate motorist in Dublin wrote in a note left on a windscreen: “Really. This is how you park over someone’s drive. Please return your licence to the box of cornflakes you got it from”. Another wrote about what he termed “the Psycho Path”: “Is nowhere safe from inconsiderate parking pirates. It’s illegal to park on a footpath. People who do this make it difficult for pedestrians to get by safely, especially for those pushing prams and wheelchair users”. These inconsiderate and unthinking drivers deserve their come-uppance. Of course, there is other numerous parking infractions committed – some of which would not be believed unless seen.

 

The RAC says that while pavement parking can be a “major hindrance” the case for an outright ban is “not so clear cut”.

On 2 April 2019, the Transport Committee launched a new inquiry to explore the problems of pavement parking in England and to consider possible solutions. The Committee defines pavement parking as when: “one or more wheels of a vehicle are on the footpath” – adding that the Government “has not taken any action on this issue in recent years”. Parking on footways or pavements was banned in London in 1974, and was prohibited for large LGVs across England. The RAC says that while pavement parking can be a “major hindrance” the case for an outright ban is “not so clear cut”. Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy said: “There is no doubt that selfish parking that block pavements can be a major hindrance and a danger to pedestrians and vulnerable road users and we’d support any move that prevents this sort of activity. The case for an outright ban, however, is not so clear cut. There are many instances, particularly on Britain’s many narrow residential streets where drivers believe they are doing the right thing by putting a wheel or two on the kerb, so as not to impede road access for other vehicles and emergency services, while also ensuring they have enough space for people to use the pavement, especially wheelchair users and those with buggies”.

 

“Declining Budgets”

Research conducted by the RAC Foundation suggests parking fines produced a collective surplus of £756 million last year for 353 local authorities in England.

The dominance of cars in meeting transport needs of the British population remains unchallenged. 70pc of all motorised vehicles in the UK are cars, and 90pc of passenger journeys are by road (DfT 2016). The number of cars has continued to increase over recent years, numbering 31.3 million by March 2018 (RAC Foundation 2018). Ensuring that traffic flow is managed has therefore become an increasingly demanding task for local authorities. The number of parking tickets issued has risen sharply, from 272,000 in 2006/2007 to 6.4 million by 2018 (RAC Foundation 2018). These fines have generated substantial revenue as councils in England collected £819 million in 2016/2017, a rise of 10pc from the previous year (RAC Foundation 2017).

 

‘Cash Cow?

In England the first parking meter was installed in London’s Grosvenor Square in July 1958.

Looking back, the very first parking meters were first introduced in 1935 in Oklahoma City in the USA. In England the first parking meter was installed in London’s Grosvenor Square in July 1958.[7] In London in 1958, in the wake of rapid growth in car ownership, [8] the main control of parking was by means of restrictions, typically signalled by ‘yellow lines’ and enforced by the police and the police traffic warden service. Also, in London, minimum parking requirements for new properties were abolished in 2004 according to the Economist. The average parking provision in new residential blocks soon fell from 1.1 spaces per flat to 0.6, putting street parking space at an even greater premium. Britain is home to 27 million cars and three million light vans, which on average spend about 90pc of their time parked. The price of a car space has changed. That’s a 34pc increase since 2011, leading some to suspect that, in times of austerity councils are using motorists as a ‘cash cow’.

 

 

“No one wants a parking free-for-all”, says a RAC Foundation  spokesman, “but with English councils annually making three-quarters of a billion pounds between them, is it right to ask whether this has become less about managing congestion – the sole legal justification for selling on-street charges – and more about shoring up declining budgets”.

 

Even royals cannot escape parking fines. When the Qatari royal family bought a rambling old emporium in Knightsbridge for a modest £1.5 billion, they would have done well to enquire about proprietorial parking perks.

A quick enquiry might have saved them £220 in parking fines and the palpitation induced by finding sinister yellow triangles hugging the wheels of a £1.5 million supercar.

A quick enquiry might have saved them £220 in parking fines and the palpitation induced by finding a sinister yellow triangle hugging the wheels of a £1.5 million supercar. Unfortunately for the al-Thani family, the traffic wardens of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are not cowed by astronomical wealth and had no hesitation when ordering clampers to Harrods in July 2010. Also, in Nottingham, the city council places a “workplace parking levy” on businesses that offer parking space to their employees, to both fund and encourage the use of public transport. Introduced in 2012, the levy – the only scheme of its kind in the country – raised almost £35 million over four years to pay for trains, busses and redevelopment of Nottingham’s rail station.

 

Unreasonable Parking Fines?

  • Due to a burst water main, the road caved in and a lorry became stuck in the subsidence. A traffic warden promptly arrived, and on tip-toe slapped a ticket on the windscreen – while helpfully telling the driver – “You can appeal”.
  • Another driver in Worchester who had a lucky escape got a ticket while his car was trapped under a fallen tree.
  • A South London scooter rider was thrown from his scooter and suffered a broken leg. A traffic warden slapped a ticket for £100 on his damaged scooter.
  • A bank customer who was in the bank, experienced a bank robbery was handed a £30 parking ticket for staying 20 minutes longer than allowed.
  • Then there was the case of the Blood Bank Lorry who parked in the same place for four years when an over-zealous traffic warden issued a parking ticket.
  • A heart attack patient was forced to park at the roadside. A nurse left a note on the windscreen explaining the situation. It proved futile. Despite an appeal the £40 fine was never cancelled.
  • A driver was dismayed to receive a parking ticket in the post for parking in Warwickshire. The driver knew the ticket had to be wrong. He lived in Sweden and had not visited England since he was 16 years old.
  • Finally, a driving instructor was issued with a CCTV parking ticket when his pupil stalled while attempting the turnabout and could not restart the engine. The offence? – parking more than 50 cms from the kerb. [9]

 

 ‘Eye-watering’ Figures

Private parking companies requested more than 4.7 million vehicle-keeper records from the DVLA in 2016/2017. The data suggests parking providers are issuing a ticket about every seven second on average. These are ‘eye-watering’ figures. In 2012, the Government banned private car park operators from clamping vehicles in all but the most extreme circumstances in the Protection of Freedoms Act, but this also introduced the power for operators to fine owners of vehicles rather than having to prove who was driving. When clamping on private land was outlawed there has been a surge in ticketing. Time and time again there are stories of people who felt the terms were unclear, the tone of communication intimidating and the price of even the shortest accidental overstay extortionate. [10] This is illustrated in the case of a driver who bought a ticket in a private car park and mistook a zero for the letter ‘O’ when inputting the car registration number. She was subsequently issued with a PCN by Smart Parking.  Her appeal was refused even though it admitted in an email the parking had been paid for. Of course, there are those who park illegally who rightly deserve a ticket for parking in a dangerous place or obstructing traffic. Some drivers will park almost anywhere. Their careless parking can range from zebra crossings to footpaths, (The Psycho Path) opposite driveways to hump backed bridges without even a thought of who they might affect. One of this writer’s favourite forms of inconsiderate and silly parking is the ‘ostrich’ parker who parks nose in to a space too small for his vehicle and the trailer extending well out into the road.

 

Early Bird Parking Ticket

How would you like to get a parking ticket outside your home at 1.00am in the morning? That’s what sneaky traffic wardens left residents fuming after they woke to discover parking tickets had been attached to their cars. Traffic wardens swooped on an estate in Gloustershire in the early hours to catch out residents who failed to display their free permits. At least eight people close to their homes were given a £100 parking charge notice. If you live in a city you probably received a parking ticket. However, not all parking tickets are created equal, as a former immigrant to Austria will attest. The Romanian offender who now lives in France left his Fiat Uno parked in the street, but was unfortunately deported before he could move the vehicle to a more long-term location. It appears that Austria has a law where you can’t tow vehicles that are not obstructing traffic. The Fiat Uno sat there for two years racking up parking violations. The sum total of the tickets came to a whopping $26,110.

 

Hospital Staff – Extortionate Parking Fees?

Hospital car-parking fees were abolished across Scotland and Wales in 2008….

At least 50 local councils make no money whatsoever from parking – or even make a loss – to keep their town centres busy and support high street retailers. (The retailer’s credo: No parking, no business). Councils aren’t the only parking providers, though. Private parking firms requested more than 4.7 million vehicles –keeper records from the DVLA in 2016/17 – a year-on-year increase of 28pc. Most of these requests were probably made for the purposes of issuing fines to drivers. In April 2017, the public service inion – Unison – released a report on the extortionate amounts some hospital staff is being forced to pay for parking at their own places of work. Among the most expensive was the Royal Free Hospital car park in North London at £85.38 a month per space and at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust car park, at £79.50 a month. Hospital car-parking fees were abolished across Scotland and Wales in 2008, and Jeremy Corbyn has said a Labour government would do the same for England. In Scotland and Northern Ireland you can choose to ignore a parking notice. Private firms can only pursue the driver, not the registered owner of the car, so if you refuse to identify the driver, there is not much they can do about it. Debt collectors, however officious sounding, have no enforcement powers.

Debt collectors, however officious sounding, have no enforcement powers.

In England and Northern Ireland the registered keeper can be held liable under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 if the driver is not identified.

For a convincing argument, check the codes of practice of the relevant trade association to see if the parking company breached any of the terms. [11]

 

‘Pistols at Dawn’?

Bitter skirmishes are raging between motorists and councils all over the country. But could automation, big data and disruptional (sic) technology provide a solution? South Devon is the site for several such skirmishes in the endless war over parking space, a topic that inspires angry letters to local newspapers up and down the land. Meter charges are as fraught an issue as bin collections or the price of a pint of milk. Simon Lee, a DJ with local radio station Torbay Sound, recently launched a Charge.org petition to protest against the district’s latest parking rate hikes. It has attracted more than 700 signatures. According to Lee, the council used to offer £2 all-day parking through the winter, which was great for locals. But they put it up to £10 overnight. That was the ‘yikes’ moment that Lee started the petition.

 

Diplomatic Immunity

Normally, top diplomatic officials have full immunity, also their deputies and families. Yet, like mice, noise and traffic jams, there seems to be little any city can do to protect itself from diplomats. That means ambassadors and plenipotentiaries can commit just about any crime – from jay-walking to murder – and still be immune from prosecution. They can’t be arrested or forced to testify in court. Diplomats are the scourge of the world’s capitals. They flout the law and cost the authorities millions. Immunity from prosecution under the Vienna Convention may be a part of international relations, but it does little good for the moral fibre of the individuals involved. Diplomatic immunity does not place diplomats above the law and they are obliged to conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of the receiving state. Nowadays the opposite applies – if a diplomat breaks the law the responsibility in the first instance is with the sending state.  There are numerous instances of diplomats running up massive parking fines.

In London, diplomats failed to pay 4,858 parking fines in 2015, creating £477,499 of debt. The real story here however, is the congestion charge. Nearly £100 million of congestion charges remain unpaid since it was first introduced in 2003 – more than 10pc of it from the US Embassy. Such was the scale of abuse in 2002; the city of New York did away with diplomatic exemptions for traffic violations. Eventually, the situation got so bad that the worst offenders – the Egyptians – had clocked up15, 000 parking tickets and owed over $1.6 million in unpaid parking fines.

 

Parking – The Future

Technology, automation and big data may soon make parking and parking management less painful. Already, most UK councils have introduced cashless parking: rather than insert cash into a meter, drivers’ type their vehicles registration number and parking location code into an app. The UK’s largest cashless parking service–RingGo-purports to process more than two million parking sessions every month, and has been used by more than six million individual motorists. The next logical step is the self-driving car, which could render parking obsolete. Everyone from Uber to Google and Tesla to BMW is working to build autonomous vehicles for the masses. As and when they do, that vehicle will be able to drop off and pick up its owner wherever they choose. So why would it ever need to park?

To Lee’s mind it’s just another sign that Britain is going to the dogs – which is why he and his wife intend to sell up and emigrate.

 

In Brixham, Devon, the distant prospect of driverless cars does nothing to address the issue at the kerbside. In the Rio Fish Restaurant on Pump Street, Proprietor Steve Lee breaks off from battering cod: “There are more cars on the roads all the time and the council give you less and less places to park” he said. “The skinter [12] (sic) local governments get, the more of a mess of things politicians make, and it’s us law-abiding citizens who get shafted,” he added. To Lee’s mind it’s just another sign that Britain is going to the dogs – which is why he and his wife intend to sell up and emigrate. “We’re done” he says. “We’re going to Ibiza”. [13] Also, Terry Falco, the outgoing Mayor of Teignmouth, Devon said: “motorists are perceived as easy targets to raise revenue” who vacated the Mayoralty in May 2907, and so can no longer park his Renault Clio in the Mayor’s reserved spot.

 

 

Conclusion

If you own (or borrow) a car at any point during your adult life, there is a very strong chance that you will have received a parking fine for some sort of parking violation. Fines may depend on where you live and the discretion of the traffic warden. Many indignant motorists appeal the charge knowing the possibility of success is unlikely. Although, it’s estimated that half of drivers who contest fines win.  Parking fines provide significant revenue streams for local authorities. Of course, there are those who argue that parking fines are an easy way to generate revenue under the guise of reducing traffic congestion. However, one has to question the rationale and morality (and even the legality) of issuing parking tickets in the small hours of the morning to residents of a village in Gloustershire.  Also, diplomats, who can well afford to pay- especially those from the US and Egypt – appear to be immune from parking fines, congestion charges and other infractions. Many motorists will agree that parking is a controversial issue. Big Brother’s overzealous and obdurate traffic wardens can make life miserable for many who go about their daily chores. But for those who park dangerously or illegally, causing disruption and inconvenience to others, then they deserve to be punished for their ‘crime’. In other words, let the punishment fit the crime. With the advent of autonomous vehicles, it will be interesting to see if the same parking issues remain or whether there will be a major overhaul of the whole system. Or perhaps we could follow in the footsteps of Steve Lee of the Rio Fish Restaurant in Devon and consider emigrating to Ibiza. Finally, there are those who deserve to be penalized for illegal, dangerous and irresponsible parking but in order to avoid traffic wardens who are possessed with excessive enthusiasm, zeal and intense devotion to duty or the attention of CCTV cameras and to avoid becoming a victim of a parking ‘crime – even for the slightest infraction–it is best to comply with all parking rules and restrictions however, if ‘apprehended,’ the best approach is to admit me culpa, put your hands up, and just pray, obey and pay.

Big Brother’s overzealous and obdurate traffic wardens can make life miserable for many who go about their daily chores.

   Tom Harrington LL B F Inst. MTD (September 2018)

 

[1] L. Sprague de Camp. Ancient Engineers. P71, Tandem Publishing 1977 ibsn 0-426 – 18120-4.

[2] Articles on Parking Policy. Giuliano Mingardo. Delft University of Technology. www.verkeerskunde.nl

[3] Local Government Ombudsman 2017

[4] The RAC Foundation 2017)

[5] A Guide To: parking Restrictions. https://www.justpark.com

[6] Public Policy Exchange. Assessing Local Parking Enforcement Delivering an Efficient and Robust System to meet the needs of Communities. https://mail.google.com

[7] Articles on Parking Policy. Giuliano Mingardo. Delft University of Technology. www.verkeerskunde.nl

[8] Bayliss, D’ (2008) Parking is your business: Setting the scene. Presented at British Parking Association Conference, London February 2002

[9] Mail Online. Ticket to Rile.  https://www.dailymail.co.uk

[10] Private parking firms issue tickets every seven seconds. https://www.tg.com

[11] The Guardian. Driver complains about car park fine policies hit unprecedented levels. July 2017.

https://www.theguardian.com

[12] Skinter is a comparative form of skint.

[13] The Guardian. It’s the worst place to park in the world – why Brixham is at war over parking” Tim Walker 29 May 2017.

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