A difficult question for the BPA

Whilst not providing much information about how UKPC had been investigated and disciplined, the BPAs recent press release contained details of changes to the BPA Code of Practice.

The update included two eye-catching changes, likely prompted by the UKPC affair and the growing list of other negative stories in the press. The two changes are to provide a 10 minute grace period after the expiry of a free parking period, and to stop financial incentives to attendants for issuing tickets, and

The grace period change is one that should be welcomed. We have heard numerous cases of parking tickets being issued to motorists for going a minute over the limit – and this is often because it takes a few minutes to exit the car park, and even more so in busy car parks. When asked about this before, the BPA had stated that a standard grace period could not be mandated since every car park is different. It’s funny how a bit of bad publicity suddenly means this is no longer the case

The change to remove financial incentives is also good news. To date, parking attendant contracts have been known to include rewards of a few pounds for each ticket issued, with rewards increasing the more tickets issued (i.e. the more you issue, the bigger reward per ticket).

In making this change, the BPA is acknowledging that these sort of schemes drive the wrong sorts of behaviour. The problem is that parking attendants will issue tickets wherever possible, and, as in the UKPC case, issue tickets when no rules have been broken.

The difficult question this raises for the BPA is: if this drives the wrong behaviours for parking attendants, would it not also drive the wrong behaviours for the business as a whole?

The main business model for private parking companies is to ‘manage’ car parks (in the loosest sense) for free in return for a proportion, if not all, the ticket revenue. In some cases, the land owner is even paid by the parking company to ticket there. This means that the parking company must issue tickets to recoup their expense and earn a profit. The more tickets issued, the more money made.

As with most companies, the business goals flow down to the employees. As such, you can clearly understand why parking attendants were given such rewards.

So, to repeat the question: if issuing ticket targets to attendants drives the wrong behaviours, then why does this not also apply to the parking company?

Now, I imagine the parking industry response to this would be that the Code of Practice provides a framework in which to operate. However, we should remember that the Code of Practice is not issued by Government. It is written by a members’ association for parking companies. As a members association you are working for your members interests since they pay your wages. You can make the right noises about the public, but at the end of the day you are only in a job because the parking companies pay you to be there. So it is completely logical to expect that the Code of Practice will be designed to give just enough concessions to keep your members in business whilst allowing them to maximise their profits.

So, what sorts of things could a parking company business model do to maximise the number of tickets issued, whilst working within the law and the code of practice?

  • Placing signs in unhelpful positions (e.g. on a high pole)
  • Using lettering that is too small to read from a distance
  • Displaying signs that cannot reasonably be read whilst driving
  • Displaying signs containing too many words (e.g. lines and lines of contractual wording)
  • Not warning motorists they have exceeded the free time
  • Not prompting motorists to pay a charge at exit
  • Not providing an opportunity to pay a charge whilst still in the car park
  • Not allowing a proportionate fee to be paid for overstaying
  • Allowing motorists to enter incorrect registrations into machines
  • Not using road markings consistent with the highway code
  • Ticketing on land that the motorist has rights on (e.g. a leasehold)
  • Attendants not warning motorists that they are about to breach the rules (e.g. leaving the site)
  • Charging fees that are well in excess of the local authority fee
  • Escalating charges when not paid immediately
  • Aggressively enforcing charges via debt collection agencies and county courts
  • Threatening disproportionate consequences for not paying (e.g. CCJ)
  • Not accepting mitigating circumstances in appeals
  • Not displaying allowable mitigation scenarios on signage (e.g. ticket cancelled if a receipt can be provided)
  • Not offering easy access to a human to discuss the charge
  • Minimise grace periods
  • Minimise free periods
  • Not inform the public when parking rules have been introduced or changed

All of the above are tactics that would likely be considered unfair by the general public, but are allowed to occur under the codes of practice. Looking at the list, one can see obvious changes that could be made to mitigate them partially or completely. But since it is neither in the parking companies interests, nor the members association, why would they?
With the ongoing private parking consultation, one hopes that action will be taken by Government to fix the industry once and for all.