Was it really only last month that I used that cliché “the camera never lies” in my column? Coincidental then that I recently read news of a Bradford man whose car was briefly in a bus stop while in a stationary queue at a red traffic light.
He was photographed by a mobile enforcement camera, which subsequently issued a parking ticket. The photo was published online and, yes, it did look as though the vehicle was parked in the bus stop, but things weren’t quite as they seemed. The ticket was later overturned and an apology received.
Urban Britain is largely a network of higgledy-piggledy lanes and streets following historic cart tracks, split by the occasional straight Roman road. In town centres, traffic struggles to keep moving through antiquated layouts peppered with roadworks and faulty traffic light sequences. So parking – whether on road or in a car park – needs regulation, be that in favour of shopkeepers who want a quick turnover of customers, or workers who want somewhere to park all day (by the way, the government website www.direct.gov.uk has 23 pages of information relating to on-street parking signs. No wonder we sometimes get confused).
The only way to regulate is to issue fines, but enforcement should be fair and reasonable. Fines have turned into a massive business of their own, with some recipient companies admitting to paying figures in the millions annually. Businesses are an easy target.
Shop goods need to be delivered to store; money to be collected by security van. They need to park on location, not half a mile away, and they can’t all do so out of regular working hours, all of the time. So they are an instant target for the civil enforcement officer or, more frequently now, the traffic camera or private contractor. Enforcement officers are taught to remain impartial and that it is their duty to issue a ticket in given circumstances. It is not up to them to show common sense nor judgement, but for the recipient to contest the ticket if they feel hard done by.
Various bodies have worked hard to make regulation fairer. Wheel clamping on private land has been a criminal offence for some time, and the BVRLA succeeded in agreeing that its leasing and rental members could transfer liability to their customer, which at least meant the end user could appeal an unfair ticket in a timely manner. Previously lease companies paid the fine on behalf of the end user to prevent it escalating, and then passed on the charge to the customer. You can’t appeal if you’ve paid the fine, as that is considered an admission of liability.
But the trend in issuing tickets has changed and it appears that some are not playing fair. Perhaps 50% of tickets are issued when they shouldn’t be, on the basis that most people probably won’t challenge them. And that, to me, is scandalous.
Legally, private contractors are not allowed incentives for issuing more tickets but one must assume they are paid on the basis of number of tickets – or at least successful tickets – issued. Although it is hotly denied, it appears their operatives do receive daily targets. Well, you would have to: given the choice between confronting angry motorists and sitting on a bench in a park all day, I know which I would choose! Certainly in our business we are seeing more tickets issued than in previous years and I don’t believe that is down to increased regulation, nor carelessness on the part of our drivers. It’s solely the parking companies trying it on.
As usual, all this means more work for the Fleet Department, which must weigh up whether the time spent checking and contesting each and every fine is worth the saving, against the cost of employing extra people solely to challenge them. I see the Freight Transport Association offers a PCN challenge service to its goods vehicle members; perhaps this is another niche area ripe for development elsewhere in the industry too?