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Why Motorists Distrust Council Parking Tickets and How Councils Can Try to Win Back Motorists' Trust

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Why Motorists Distrust Council Parking Tickets and How Councils Can Try to Win Back Motorists' Trust

Barrie Segal
March 3, 2013

It all started in 1994when parking enforcement in the UK became decriminalised as a result of the Road Traffic Act 1991 which removed parking enforcement responsibilities from the police and shifted them to local authorities if an authority elected to take over enforcement.

The first decriminalised parking tickets were issued in 1994 and were called penalty charge notices (often referred to as a "PCN").

Since that date as more and more local authorities have taken over parking enforcement there has been an increasing distrust of the system by motorists.

This article looks at the reason for this.

When the police dealt with parking enforcement they took a pragmatic view. They had two main concerns, the first was to ensure that traffic was kept moving and the second was to ensure the safety of all road users, motorists and pedestrians alike.

They operated in a very simple way - if they saw a motorist parking a car where parking was not permitted they would simply tell the motorist that he or she had to move and if they didn't and the police came back in say 5 minutes and the vehicle was still there they would issue a parking fine.

Sometimes if they didn't see the motorist but knew where the motorist's office was they would go to the office and say please move your car or else. What this did was keep traffic moving in a very efficient way.

There was no financial incentive for the police to issue parking tickets because they did not receive the revenues that parking enforcement generated.

However under decriminalised parking this all changed. Under these new laws local authorities were allowed to keep the revenues generated by parking enforcement. So immediately there was a conflict between the need to move traffic along and the safety of road users on the one hand and revenue raising on the other. The authorities will say very simply there was never a conflict because it was not about raising revenue and will point out that it is in fact illegal to issue parking tickets solely to raise revenue.

However, statistics and facts tend to contradict this. If we look at London which was the first city to undertake decriminalised parking the statistics are revealing.

The first figures for 1995/1996 show a total of 3.4 million tickets issued. In the following year it increased to 3.59 million tickets issued. In the following year the number of tickets issued increased to 3.79 million and the next year to 4.07 million.

Many councils also took over the enforcement of moving traffic violations.

By the year 2004/5 the number of parking tickets increased so that in that year more than 5 million parking tickets were issued together with 835,000 bus lane tickets and more than 100,000 moving traffic tickets. The following year parking tickets remained constant but bus lane and moving traffic ticket together reached nearly 1.1 million!

Currently the total number of parking tickets, bus lane and moving traffic tickets issued in London has dropped but the total is almost 5 million.

In 2008 new parking laws came into force in England and Wales and since then parking attendants have been called civil enforcement officers - but for the purpose of this article I will refer to them as parking attendants.

In my view a major factor giving rise to the distrust of motorists is the fact that many local authorities have contracted out their parking enforcement to outside contractors. Whilst councils would deny that they have less control over these contractors and their parking attendants the facts once again contradict this. To make the position worse councils have often subcontracted the consideration of appeals by motorists to the very contractors who have issued the parking tickets!

Common sense will tell anybody that unless the councils are able to talk to each and every parking attendant every day they cannot exercise proper control over them . Moreover how can they exercise normal quality control in the way that parking attendants work?

By the same token contractors will claim that they have no targets and no financial interest in issuing lots of parking tickets, rather it's better for them financially if they only issue parking tickets correctly. But if that's the case why have there been so many cases of parking attendants fraudulently issuing parking tickets? I have many cases where fraudulent parking tickets have been issued but this article is not the place to go into the detail.

So how can local authorities change the motorists' perception of parking enforcement?

Let's first examine the main complaints that motorists have.

1. Parking tickets are often issued unfairly when the parking attendant knows for example that the motorist is loading or unloading and is therefore entitled to park.

2. The whole parking enforcement system is not transparent.

3. Councils are only interested in money and therefore do not properly take into account information sent to them when appeals lodged against a ticket.

4. Parking attendants indulge in unfair or sometimes fraudulent practices in order to issue parking tickets. If as councils and contractors claim there are no targets why would any parking attendant commit fraud to issue a parking ticket?

Here is my solution:

At a minimum councils should

Take back in house all currently subcontracted parking enforcement. There should be no exceptions.

2. Councils must ensure the proper training of parking attendants and also ensure that they are properly paid.

3. Councils should make clear that parking attendants a) will face disciplinary proceedings if they indulge in unfair practices and b) will be reported to the police if they indulge in fraudulent practices.

4. Parking attendant should be required to watch for a longer period of time (say 10 minutes rather than the normal 5 minutes) where goods vehicles are involved to ensure that they are loading or unloading before issuing a parking ticket.

These are not great steps - in fact they are very simple and straightforward steps. But will the councils take them? Only time will tell.

Barrie Segal is an after dinner speaker, author and broadcaster. His after dinner talks about the crazy world of parking tickets,and how to fight unfair parking tickets are both hilarious and informative. Richard Hammond of "Top Gear" fame called him "The UK's leading parking ticket expert". To learn more go to after dinner speaking

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