Plugging the legislative loophole is long overdue
Ashley Bijster, Managing Director of Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions, calls on the Government to address a legislative loophole so motorists and Councils can experience the real service benefits of intelligent technologies in off-street parking.
When it comes to parking a car, there are a lot of things that can compromise service standards and antagonise motorists. Inadequate or badly located signage, nonsensical traffic regulation orders, poorly maintained facilities, inconvenient payment arrangements, heavy-handed enforcement and the antics of persistent evaders are to name just a few of the more obvious bugbears.
Faced with such frustrations and a perception that parking is a money-spinner for cash-starved local authorities and unscrupulous private car park operators, it’s easy for motorists to forget that strict regulations and professional standards underpin the vast majority of parking operations. More importantly, it’s also easy to forget that compliance with parking regulations is far and away the most important factor for any parking provider – both in terms of service provision and revenue generation.
Only by maximising compliance can a parking provider maintain fair and reliable access to parking spaces while also optimising occupancy rates and user payments. Without any controls, parking would be a nightmare for users and operators as high levels of non-compliance would result in considerable inconvenience for other users and lost revenue to the parking provider as well as neighbouring retail, leisure and entertainment venues.
For the vast majority of parking operators in both the public and private sectors, the cost of patrolling and monitoring facilities and processing and pursuing payment of Penalty Charge Notices is significant. Indeed most local authorities will confirm that the cost of such measures far outweigh any income derived from such enforcement measures. It is a public misconception that local authorities make lots of money from civil enforcement as the
The Pursuit of Compliance
From that standpoint, it is clear that the more a service provider can do to apply best practice and to provide value for money, safety, security, accessibility and convenience, then the better the service will be for users and the more productive the operation will be for the operator. In other words, if investment focuses on compliance rather than enforcement then there is less opportunity to cause irritation and antagonise motorists and greater potential to maximise income. The pursuit of compliance, however, cannot rely on crossed fingers. It needs to be managed. This is where technology comes into its own – or at least it should do!
Intelligent camera technologies and new apps for smartphones – supported with versatile payment platforms and service options – have been shown to transform operational efficiencies and deliver far higher service standards for users. For the first time, such technologies are giving motorists direct control over their own parking experience which will help to overcome much of the disenchantment and scepticism they associate with the process of parking a vehicle. If motorists are informed that compliance is being monitored by ANPR, for example, risking non-payment is pointless as they know they will have to pay their way or they will receive a penalty charge. And if a new app enables a motorist to identify, book, find and pay for a parking space with just a few taps on their smartphone then, at last, convenience for the motorist overrides any preoccupation with enforcement.
That’s not all. The new generation technologies can be linked to much more sophisticated and intelligent payment options that include not just phone payments but also retrospective on-line payments, as has proved so effective for congestion charges. In addition, other potential beneficiaries – such as cinemas, theatres and major retailers – have the opportunity to tap into the new payment platform to offer incentives and rewards for customers in the form parking vouchers. Hospitals could also take advantage of this more responsive and convenient approach to voucher and permit parking. And, for the parking operator, the need for regular patrols and to operate and maintain an inordinate number of Pay and Display Machines is eliminated – just a small number of payment machines positioned conveniently around the pedestrian access points is all that’s needed for an ANPR-controlled car park.
It all sounds too good to be true doesn’t it. Unfortunately, for local authorities it is too good to be true. While private car park operators can take full advantage of all manner of new and approved technologies to reduce their overheads, improve efficiencies and drive up service standards for users, Councils have only been able to put the very tip of their toes into the new smarter way for parking. It’s not because of prohibitive costs, incompatible legacy systems, lack of enthusiasm or inertia. It’s all because of a ridiculous bureaucratic technicality and vested interests.
A Legislative Straitjacket
In simple terms, any authority that has committed to on-street enforcement is blocked from applying technologies like ANPR to full effect in their off-street car parks because of the conditions written into the legislation that governs the provision of civil enforcement powers. The only option is for a local authority to adopt a compromise approach or to seek authorisation to use the same laws of contract and trespass that apply for parking on private land. Despite protests from many authorities and vague promises to rectify the situation from central Government, it’s a technicality that has undermined a more progressive approach to public sector parking for many years.
It’s not just frustrating for forward-thinking authorities and those of us who are passionate advocates of innovation, progression and transparency. It’s a travesty that organisations which have been directly under the austerity cosh and taken so much venom from parking campaigners for so long are the very organisations that are being prevented from improving service standards and convenience for motorists and maximising the efficiencies of their parking operations. What’s more this technicality is placing a very real financial cost on Councils as service transformation in the field of public sector parking is stuck in a muddy legislative puddle.
Frankly it’s an appalling state of affairs and it will be of no surprise if local authorities make a legal challenge to create a more level playing field on the one hand and to remove the shackles that inhibit progress on the other. After all, best practice disciplines and the provision of an independent appeals service applies to both private and public sector parking operations, so it’s not as if local authorities are looking to resort to the lowest common denominator. Far from it. The truth is that they are simply looking to ensure legislative compliance – something that should be the starting point for any parking operation, any law-abiding citizen and any independent appeals platform.
No Excuse for Continued Stalling
Of course, we have to accept that last June’s referendum has seen the thorny topic of parking slip further down the list of Government priorities. The fact remains, however, that inaction has not been restricted to the intervening months – it predates the last General Election and even the draft European Union (Referendum) Bill.
There’s no need to go back to the parking drawing board. It is just case of plugging a nonsensical loophole so that local authorities can harness technological advances in the same way that their private sector counterparts have been able to do for many years. The difference, however, is that a Council’s primary function is to deliver services for its local communities and to safeguard the local economy and local infrastructure in the most efficient ways possible – not to make a profit. So, it’s a legislative tweak that is of genuine importance to local communities, local businesses and local economies. So one has to ask why the Government is continuing to drag its heels when the answer couldn’t be any clearer nor any easier to deliver?
Plugging the legislative loophole is long overdue