Parking in London
16th March 06"If enforcement is to be effective, it needs to be fair. Enforcement must be equitable, proportionate and governed by clear and transparent standards... The system must be democratically accountable, and it must be perceived to be by the public."
The new enforcers: Local authorities and the penalty notice system
, Fellows' Associates, 2004On street with a Westminster Parking Attendant
Is decriminalised parking enforcement about revenue raising or about keeping the streets free of obstructions and providing residents parking?
In February 2005 I spent four hours on street with a Westminster Parking Attendant
trying to find out.
You can decide for yourself (as we ticket Royal Mail vans, unmarked police cars, a BT van and a disabled driver and call in the clampers on a driver who dares to pay for 40 minutes of parking in two lots of 20 minutes!)
It is interesting to compare this experience with the rather different (unsurprisingly perhaps) experience of the chairperson of the recent London Assembly scrutiny investigation into Parking in London
I featured in a recent Saturday Times magazine article about "Britain's Parking Hell"
by David Rowan
BBC 1 aired a "Whistleblower" programme
on Wednesday 1 June 2005 at 9pm about decriminialised parking enforcement. We saw prima facie evidence of illegal ticket issue, bribery, corruption and even criminal activity (if only I could say I was surprised...)
Here is a summary
Channel 4 recently featured a Dispatches special "Confessions of a Parking Attendant," which was rather consistent with my experience. Here is a summary of the Dispatches special.
Not to be outdone, ITV aired a program called "Parking Mad" at 7:30pm on Tuesday 22 March on ITV London. Very interesting viewing! The highlight for me was the council parking attendants sneaking around and ticketing vehicles in a quiet cul de sac at 3am - definitely helping to keep traffic flowing there then, and nothing to do with making money of course!!
Avoiding tickets and your rights when dealing with Council Parking Attendants
Here is some good advice on avoiding parking tickets
. Enforcement (particularly by Westminster Parking Services) is now so overzealous
you should take care to safeguard yourself and your car by reading these guidelines carefully.
Wanting to pay for your parking and taking every commonsense precaution to park legally is not enough. Read this case study to find out why
If you do come back to your car to find a Council Parking Attendant in the process of issuing a Penalty Charge Notice (a process which can take several minutes), simply get into your car and drive off (checking first that the attendant is not a police officer or non-council traffic warden!) A PCN issued by a council parking attendant is not legally valid until it is either fixed to your vehicle or handed to you
. You may wish to read (and use in any appeal) this letter from Westminster Parking Services clarifying the position
Consequently, ignore any delaying tactics or scare stories from the attendant (e.g. that if you drive off this will result in a "double" fine) and drive off. If you do later receive a Notice to Owner, appeal the case on the basis that the PCN is illegal because it was not attached to your vehicle or handed to you, and make it clear that you are prepared to take your case to the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (we are 2 for 2 on such appeals so far! You can read a case study of one of these appeals
to find out more about the appeals process)
Do not ask Council Parking Attendants for permission to park somewhere illegal while you do something really important.
The Council Parking Vulture in question or another one of his/her ilk not familiar with your story may very well issue you with a ticket while you are gone.
An insight into the pressures on Council Parking Attendants
In my many discussions with them, I have come to understand that Council Parking Attendants are caught in a sandwich between, on the one hand, revenue-driven pressure from the Council (or the private contractor working on behalf of the Council) to issue tickets and, on the other hand, angry members of the public who believe parking enforcement should be fair and carried out in accordance with common sense.
Many Parking Attendants I have spoken to actually agree wholeheartedly with the latter point of view but feel that they are powerless to do anything about it.
As I understand, the problem starts right at the top. The Council views parking enforcement as a good source of revenue (forget anything they tell you about keeping traffic flowing etc. - that may be a side effect of ruthless enforcement but it's certainly not the primary motivation).
To collect this revenue, they contract their on-street parking services enforcement out to a private company (NCP in the case of Westminster, APCOA in the case of Kensington and Chelsea).
I have not (yet) seen the actual contracts involved but I would not be surprised to learn that there are financial rewards for the contractors based on the number of tickets issued etc. After all, the contractors are private companies in it for the money, while the Councils want to collect as much revenue as possible, so such an arrangement would be mutually beneficial.
This pressure to generate revenue filters down onto the street. In Kensington and Chelsea, supervisors push PAs to issue a minimum of 10 tickets in a shift
. In Westminster the situation is far worse, with PAs pushed to issue 15-20 tickets per shift; there are also financial rewards for exceeding targets. Failure to meet a target results in a "discussion" with a supervisor and possible disciplinary action.
Parking attendants are not encouraged to use their discretion and are closely monitored to ensure they issue the maximum number of tickets possible.
Besides having to make a note in their logbooks as to where they are every three minutes, supervisors (who themselves have probably been given operating targets to achieve) patrol the streets; if they see illegally parked vehicles that have not been issued with Penalty Charge Notices, this could result in disciplinary action against PAs who were in the area at the time.
Before their shifts, PAs are briefly by their supervisors on the top targets of the day (e.g. scaffolders' vehicles) and are also told which company vehicles they should and should not target. Bizarrely, for example, in Kensington and Chelsea, BT vans are prime targets, whereas NTL vans are not to be ticketed.
I've heard this from at least three different K&C parking attendants. I'd be very interested to learn how such an arrangement comes about - I bet it's not anywhere in the Road Traffic Act 1991 but I bet it involves a lot of money!!!
Interestingly, compliance officers in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea parking service claim to know nothing about this, blindly insisting "We deal with all parking contraventions in the same manner, regardless of vehicle operator."
Well, perhaps they would like to, but they clearly don't. (17 April 2005 UPDATE: I'm pleased to report APCOA has now been instructed to "review" their policy towards NTL vehicles.)
It is not surprising then that these pressures result in PAs occasionally issuing illegal tickets, and in misleading uninformed members of the public about their rights in order to achieve their targets.
What to do if you receive a Penalty Charge Notice or Notice to Owner
Firstly, familiarize yourself with the the enforcement and appeals process
that the Councils operate under.
There is a procedure to follow; it will take many months to complete and there is nothing that can be done to speed it up. The Councils will in general not stir themselves an inch beyond their obligations under the law, and seem to have no procedures in place to cater for common sense objections or queries outside of this framework.
The sooner you understand this and the quicker you learn the procedures the more frustration you will save yourself. I have also put together a case study of the appeals process
for your information.
Although it makes for depressing reading initially, do not be put off by the incompleteness of the law and the narrow grounds for appeal that the law seems to offer. Study Section 66
of the Road Traffic Act
carefully and read anecdotes of successful appeals to see which paragraphs of the act may be relevant to your case (here is just one example
; the web site http://www.parkingticket.co.uk/
contains several others; also check out details of key appeal cases
that may apply to you).
If you have already paid your fine, but on reflection now wish to appeal it, all hope may not be lost.
In particular, if you paid the fine by credit card, it may be possible to "charge back" the fine to the council through your credit card issuer (in the same way as you would if you had a dispute with a retailer over goods sold), thus rendering the fine "unpaid". At the very least your credit card company can send a "Request for Information" or RFI request to the Council whereupon they must provide proof that your card was charged legitimately.
By initiating (and later cancelling) a chargeback, I have successfully managed to get my case into the channels usually reserved for "unpaid" fines (i.e. where appeal is a possibility).
If you follow this route, be prepared to receive intimidating letters from the council containing untrue and unnecessarily forceful sentences such as "Enforcement action will continue until payment is received"; this is in fact not true because in the case that you successfully appeal the PCN, no payment is due and enforcement action ceases.
Follow the process - when you receive your Notice to Owner, write to the Council laying out your grounds for appeal, mitigating circumstances etc. and attaching copies of any evidence that you have. Remember the poor souls replying to these letters (generally nice people open to logical argument) get shouted at if they don't turn out 20 to 30 replies a day so lay out your letter clearly and be polite and concise.
If your representation to the Council is rejected (and you receive a Notice of Rejection), you may appeal your case formally through the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service
The resources below give much more complete information and advice (e.g. in cases of clamping or vehicle removal).
What Council Parking Services need to do
By issuing over 1,000,000 tickets a year, Westminster Parking Services (through its contractor NCP) is making itself pretty unpopular (to put it mildly) with hundreds and thousands of people. Here are some ways in which they (and other council parking services) could improve:
Stop petty and overzealous enforcement of parking rules.
Stop giving inducements/commission payments to parking attendants encouraging them to issue tickets to boost revenue. Schemes such as the one described in this Evening Standard article about bonuses for parking attendants
are not acceptable.
Remarkably, this recent BBC news article
suggests that some aspects of this practice have now been terminated; however this Times newspaper article
suggests ARGOS points are now being used as incentives for attendants who "achieve agreed targets".
Instruct parking attendants to cancel a PCN if a motorist arrives while a PCN is in the process of being issued (Kensington & Chelsea Parking Services do this but Westminster Parking Services do not).
It is a wretched sight to watch a Westminster PA issuing a ticket in the presence of a stunned and confused driver who is convinced they have parked legally; especially when (a) the PA refuses to explain why they are issuing the ticket and (b) the PA omits to inform the driver of their right to drive off (often compounding this omission with misleading statements like "I am sorry you are too late; I cannot cancel the ticket"; instead the PA should say "You are just in time; if you leave before I have attached the PCN to your car or given it to you I will have my supervisor cancel the ticket according to proper procedure.")
Review offences that are nonsensical and/or illogical in terms of traffic management and/or which place PAs at high risk of assault - e.g. meter feeding should only be an offence if the total time purchased exceeds the maximum time allowed (UPDATE July 2005: Well done to Westminster Parking Services for scrapping meter feeding as an offence. Westminster's Cabinet Spokesman for Transport is quoted as saying, "This is an offence which has probably caused more anger and frustration among drivers than any other because effectively we were punishing them for trying to pay for their parking... This rule offended against natural justice and caused no end of conflict on the street and we are glad to see the back of it.")
Stop ticketing the vehicles of scaffolders, telephone technicians, couriers and others who are unavoidably in the area as a consequence of providing services to local residents (UPDATE July 2005: Well done again to Westminster Parking Services for having a policy to not ticket vehicles involved in the erection of scaffolding for health and safety reasons.)
Stop moaning about public reaction to and treatment of parking attendants
(also described in this Guardian article
) and realise that this results directly from the draconian legislation they are enforcing and the (often pigheaded and oppressive
) manner in which the legislation is sometimes enforced. If they doubt the latter, they should consider the case of the Canary Islands where no one minds the parking attendants - because they issue optional fines of 2 euros 50 cents! Even the union UNISON (which represents many parking attendants) suggests that the government should "review parking control methods, to encourage its use primarily as a method of public safety and congestion control, rather than a revenue collection service
." As far back as 2002, a UNISON spokesman said "We know some local authorities, or more particularly the private companies working for them, are exploiting drivers and attendants alike in their ruthless pursuit of making money out of fines. This has a knock-on effect on the health and safety of attendants, putting them at even greater risk of violence in an already dangerous job, and this has got to stop
". The GMB Union is equally vehement in its condemnation of the status quo
. Also some badly trained parking attendants are no angels themselves - they readily lose their temper, hit motorists with their handheld computers, threaten to spit on motorists, attempt to deceive motorists about their rights etc. (I've seen/personally experienced all of this).
Educate the public about their parking rights, and respond quickly and accurately to enquiries (I sent one in to Westminster Parking Services and it took them well over a week to reply; Kensington & Chelsea Parking Services are much better, replying almost instantly).
What Government needs to do
Westminster Parking Services and others are only allowed to act in the way they do because they are exploiting (to the fullest extent possible) the rights given to them under the Road Traffic Act 1991. Government needs to take a serious look at this vague and incomplete piece of legislation paying careful attention to:
Lowering the price of the fines to be commensurate with the offence (e.g. 10 pounds for minor parking offences not causing an obstruction).
Broadening motorists' grounds of appeal.
Placing obligations on Councils to provide adequate free parking where road space is available and not required by local residents, particularly around underground stations in outer London.
Drastically simplifying the morass of parking regulations and making restricted areas more visibile (perhaps by requiring the colour coding parking bays/kerbs to make it obvious which areas are restricted and how they are restricted).
Putting the same kind of time limits and responsibilities on Councils as are placed on the motorist (e.g. a Council must respond to a representation from a motorist within 28 days).
Enshrining in law the right for companies delivering services to local residents to be exempt from parking regulations (unless causing a serious obstruction or where safety is at risk).
In the case of unpaid fines, remove the ability for private debt collection agencies to add "collection fees" to the amount owing.
Investigate NCP's near-monolopy of off-street parking provision as well as NCP's role in enforcing parking legislation in many boroughs - surely a blatant conflict of interest?
Some statistics about parking tickets issued in LondonMy PCN statistics page
shows Association for London Government figures for the number of PCNs issued by London boroughs for every year from 1999/2000 to 2003/2004 inclusive, as well as the revenue (£297.4 million in total) and net profit (£112.6 million in total) on their Parking Accounts. As you can see, generating revenue and income through parking services is a very profitable industry (average 38 percent profit margin) that is growing rapidly in many boroughs (PCNs issued grew by an average compound growth rate of 10% per annum for every year since 1999).
contains useful information about the enforcement and appeals process in England and Wales.http://www.parkingandtrafficappeals.gov.uk/
contains a useful guide to the enforcement and appeal process in London.
You may want to read the full text of the Road Traffic Act 1991
. This wretched piece of incomplete and woolly legislation is what gives Councils the power to conduct "decriminalised" enforcement of parking offences. Pay attention to Sections 63 through 77
which cover Parking in London, and particularly to Section 66
which covers the issuing of Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs). Paragraph (3) of Section 66 details the exact requirements which a PCN must meet. If it fails to meet any of these then the PCN is not valid.
The London Motorists Action Group
is an organisation that aims to stop tax farming abuse by London Councils and Transport for London.http://www.parkingticket.co.uk/
contains much useful information and anecdotes of successful appeals.http://www.appealnow.com/
will help you to rapidly appeal a PCN for a small fee. The website also contains a great list of some of the parking-related tricks tried on by councils (see the "Media Links" section).
An interesting Times article about overzealous parking enforcement in London
Many Islington residents are very upset with the way NCP is conducting parking enforcement there on behalf of the council - so much so they have formed their own protest websites
and even a political party
!Video footage of the first meeting of the London Assembly scrutiny investigation into Parking in London held in City Hall on 13 January 2005
(carried out by the Transport Committee) (recommended viewing for those with the time to spare; pay particular attention to many of the extraordinary statements of ex-WCC parking chief Alan Clark. The origins of Westminster Parking Services' brutal regime are pretty clear to see!) A transcript of this first meeting
is also available in Word format.Video footage of the second meeting of the London Assembly scrutiny investigation into Parking in London held in City Hall on 10 February 2005
(a less open and frank affair owing to the borough's threatening legal action early in proceedings and a steady stream of childish and unnecessary comments to the courageous chair from a certain panel member!) A transcript of this second meeting
is also available in Word format.My submission
to the London Assembly scrutiny investigation into Parking in London.The Association of London Goverment's submission
to the London Assembly scrutiny investigation into Parking in London. The main body is filled with carefully chosen words (some of which are actually quite informative) and highly selected statistics, but the tables of figures and graphs in the Appendices (regarding PCN volumes, parking account profits, and volumes of vehicles clamped and removed) speak for themselves!
A very interesting report "The New Enforcers: Local authorities and the penalty notice system
" by Fellows' Associates and the Improvement and Development Agency. Highlights some key problems with the way in which local authorities enforce penalty notices (for a variety of offences including parking) and makes some excellent recommendations.
The Freedom of Information Act
makes it possible for anyone to request information (including information related to parking enforcement) from local authorities as of January 2005. More information is available from the Information Commissioner's Office
. A case study of a parking-related FOI request will be published here soon.
Is Angle Grinder Man
a nut or a super hero?
My long lost twin brother has set up a business in the US challenging parking tickets
- the videos in the "Press Coverage" section are worth a watch!My home page