The Social Benefits of Innovation – a Parking Perspective – Part 1

In Part 1 we take a look at the current environment and how parking has a sociological impact.

In this three part series we’ll take a look at the social benefits of innovation, in focus; Parking. We’ll discuss the current parking environment, what innovation could achieve and how attainable all of this is. We’ll also discuss how we can improve the customer experience and help motorists adapt to a low-carbon economic future.

Has chronic underinvestment in parking opened a can of worms?

Imagine you’ve just parked at a car park, the payment machine is down and you can’t pay via your phone. Or perhaps there is a phone option but their services are down! 

What do you do?
That choice might depend on;

The urgency of your situation. Or your appetite for risk.

Sure. If you’re only parking outside your local country park to take your dog for a short walk. Maybe you can find somewhere else to park on this occasion.

Maybe you just have to grit your teeth and get on with it!

The worst thing that can happen is that you receive a penalty/parking charge notice. But once you explain that you weren’t able to pay, that fine will be instantly waived, right? 

Sadly, not everyone is so lucky.

In fact, a group of nurses recently incurred thousand of pounds worth of parking fines and costs 

Healthcare workers have been praised for their remarkable resilience and dedication during the pandemic. In the UK, and across the world, many have endured very long working hours and chronic fatigue!

If you’re a healthcare worker, the very last thing you should have to worry about is getting a parking fine!

Unfortunately, that is what happened to eleven members of staff working at the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. They incurred parking fines worth a collective total of over £21,000. This is despite the fact that ticket machines were not working in the staff car parks. The East Sussex Health NHS Trust said it was investigating the case to find a solution.

Now, the above is an extreme example of what can happen when technical glitches and enforcement procedures collide. 

But, sadly, many other motorists have incurred fines when payment machines have gone down.

A woman in the Cherwell district of north Oxfordshire received a fine after parking in a car park where the ticket machine was broken and there was no opportunity to pay via phone. Although she tried to challenge the parking fine of £80, the contractor APCOA collected it. Despite the car park being run by the council, which claimed it had ‘no jurisdiction’ over the site.

But this was incorrect

After an investigation by the Ombudsman, the contractor was found to have acted wrongfully as it didn’t offer a ‘reasonable means to pay’. Neither did it act reasonably to her complaint. Furthermore, while the council did contract the site to APCOA, the authority was still responsible for handling complaints when a contractor is at fault.

Cherwell District Council said it ‘apologised unreservedly’ to the woman and had acted on the recommendations made by the Ombudsman.

Or pay £25 to appeal a £100 fine – even if it wasn’t your fault

In January 2019, Steve Pollard from Derbyshire incurred a £100 fine three weeks after parking outside Luton Airport Parkway railway station. Despite both ticket machines being out of order when he parked there. He decided to pay a company £25 to appeal the parking charge on his behalf and won. Although he said he would have preferred to make the appeal himself but didn’t have the time.

The above three scenarios could have been avoided

If the parking machines had been working, all of these motorists should have been able to pay for their parking. They could have been spared:

Of course, if these car parks had offered cashless parking these scenarios could all have been avoided too!

The good news is that most appeals are upheld

Fortunately, recent research indicates that most people who appeal are successful. Just last year, comparison website Confused found that three quarters of people who appealed a fine had won their case. 

Intriguingly, in 2019 ,it was reported that almost one in four (23.5%) of appeals were uncontested by the parking operator.

What are the key factors that will make an appeal more likely to succeed?

Firstly – never pay a parking ticket that you intend to appeal.

Paying will mean you consent to the fine and won’t be eligible for any appeal.

The Citizens Advice Bureau states: if you had no opportunity to pay for your parking, your ticket should be cancelled. Although you will need to provide evidence for this. 

Other factors that should result in a successful appeal (for a PCN notice) include:
Why the high rate of appeals is a big headache for local authorities

It is right that motorists have the opportunity to appeal parking tickets. Especially if they can clearly demonstrate that they incurred the fine through no fault of their own. However, appeals are expensive – and time consuming – for local authorities to administer – especially if they are successful.

So, is the current system inefficient?

From our data we have found that approximately 12 – 20% of issued notices are challenged. Meaning some 80% of notices are paid or ignored and potentially paying for invalid notices. 

Does this indicate there is an issue with ‘over-fining’ in our industry?

Perhaps and this may be due to factors such as:

In the last few years, some MPs have expressed serious concerns over unethical parking fines

In December ’18, Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk & North Ipswich, raised concerns over, what he described as: ‘unethical practice of commercial car parking firms issuing unreasonable parking and trespass enforcement notices’ to haulage companies in his constituency and elsewhere. 

Could a new piece of legislation become a ‘best practice handbook’ for operators?

Responding to Dr Poulter, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Ms Nusrat Ghani, said the (then May) Government did have concerns about the ‘practices of some private parking companies. This is why it was putting forward a new Parking (Code of Practice) Bill to create a ‘single code of practice’. This will help to ‘raise standards’ by incorporating best practice as standard across the industry’. 

Embracing standards

As a company Solutionlabs is proud of all of our accreditations. But our work with the International Parking Community known as the IPC is something we are particularly proud of. Embracing organisations such as the IPC has ensured our percentage of PCN’s that are upheld is currently between 75-80%. We hold ourselves to a high standard of compliance and our internal policy and innovation supports this vision everyday.

Is your current infrastructure costing you money?

Broken parking machines are a nightmare for motorists – but they can also be very costly for operators, too.

Take a look at what happened in Stowmarket, Suffolk, in one month in the summer of 2019

Ticket machines in three of the fourteen car parks operated by Mid Suffolk District Council went out of order. This lead to a loss of £35,000 in income and a further loss of £11,000 from unenforceable excess charge notices.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, that total loss of £46,000 may not seem like much when you consider, in the financial year 2020-2021, Mid Suffolk District Council is expected to receive £6.3 million from Council Tax payments alone.

However, £46,000 would contribute to approximately a quarter of Mid Suffolk District Council’s expenditure on Community Fund Projects – which might cover projects ranging from local youth services to health campaigns.

With councils facing an overall funding gap of £3.1 billion in 2019-2020 – according to data published in the GMB Congress CEC Special Report on Local Government and Austerity – every penny counts. 

So how can innovation improve all of this?

It’s not all doom and gloom. There is hope for us yet! In Part 2 we explore the regulations and innovations hoping to make parking forgettable.

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