Some will remember that I have been asking why the signs on the car park ticket machines in the South Hams of South Devon say one thing but, under certain circumstances, “sell” another. This is demonstrated by the picture above. The sign advertises a parking charge of £1 for 1 hour. This ticket was bought at 17.31, cost £1.00 and is valid until 18.00, That is, of course, 29 minutes worth of parking and not the advertised 60.
The first blog I wrote, To park or not to park: that is the question, describes the situation in some detail. There was a brief exchange with the SHDC in the form of comments under that blog. That was on 10 June.
This was followed by Parking charges and the separation of duties a couple of days later. In that piece I tried to explore the relationship between the elected representatives sitting on the council and the officers employed by that body. When I was a councillor (many years ago) this relationship was clear: councillors determined policy and officers implemented it. There was, and always has been, a requirement for officers to give councillors advice and especially so when the matter under scrutiny requires some technical expertise. Now, or so it seems, the waters are far less clear.
I had hoped that by now the matter would have been resolved but, not terribly surprisingly, it feels as though everyone wants to divert attention away from the actual problem by focusing on other matters.
The main problem arises between 5 pm and 6 pm. The signs advertise that you can park for an hour in exchange of £1.00 but the “PAID UNTIL” time remains at 6 pm – even if you buy the ticket as late as 5.59 pm. I am told that this doesn’t matter as the Parking Wardens, “take a sensible view when it comes to checking tickets around the 6pm transition period. They would see you had paid £1 and arrived at 1730 so if you were still there at 1820, for example, they would be unlikely to issue a fine. However, after 1830 they would expect you to either leave or pay the £2 overnight fee.”
I will leave you to judge whether or not you consider that reasonable. I don’t. It assumes that the Warden can see the time of arrival which is not always the case – the time of arrival is on the bottom edge of the ticket – and when I checked on 2 out of 10 it was obscured (by the wipers or the moulding around the windscreen).
I find the phrase “they would be unlikely to issue a fine” worrying. If a person has bought an hour’s parking for the advertised fee there should be no question of a fine being issued.
So I suggested that the simple solution was to put a notice on the ticket machines pointing out that tickets where the fee paid is £1.00 remain valid for one hour from the issue time regardless of the time indicated and that the ticket must be displayed so that the arrival time is visible. That is really all that is needed pending a rethink on a number of issues which can wait.
Because South Hams District Council operates the “Cabinet” system, this whole matter of parking is the responsibility of the Councillor Rufus D Gilbert who is the representative for Kingsbridge North. He is also the Executive Member for Environmental Services which, of course, include parking. Anyway, it seemed reasonable to telephone him and he was happy to talk although I did not find what he had to say was terribly satisfactory.
Some of you will know that I am pretty deaf and if you are deaf it is terribly easy to get the wrong end of the stick. So, before I mention anything that anyone says to me in public, I like to make sure that has not happened.
Thus I sent Cllr Gilbert (both by email and by letter) a copy of the notes that I had taken during that conversation and asked him to confirm or otherwise what I had recorded him to have said. That was well over a week ago and there has yet to be a reply so I can only assume that there is nothing there to which he objects. Here is what I said in my letter to him.
Further to our telephone conversations, I would be pleased if you would confirm the accuracy of the notes that I have taken. If they are to be placed in the public domain, I would wish for them to be as accurate as possible.
The concerns that have been expressed are threefold:
- That the sign-age on the parking meters in some car parks under the control of the SHDC are misleading and, as such, appear to be contrary to section 3.1 of the Advertising Standards Code. The result is that the “time purchased” for £1.00 at any time after 1700 hours results in the PAID UNTIL time as shown on the parking ticket to be 1800 hours which is not in accordance with the advertised rate of one hour for a charge of £1.00.
- That the machines are so programmed as to require a minimum charge of £2.00 from 1800 hours until 0800 hours the following morning. Thus during this period the advertised charge of one hour is not available.
- That as a consequence of (1) it would seem that persons who have paid the required charge for one hour of parking are liable to further penalties as they will have exceeded to PAID UNTIL time.
I understand that you agree that the position is unsatisfactory but that you feel there are no measures that can be taken to correct what would seem to be a badly executed implementation of policy.
The option of providing explanatory notices is, you believe, too complex and the general public would not understand them.
You rule out the possibility of reprogramming the machines.
You are happy with the present position regarding enforcement as put by the council officials in the following sentence: “Our Civil Enforcement Officers (Parking Wardens) take a sensible view when it comes to checking tickets around the 6pm transition period. They would see you had paid £1 and arrived at 1730 so if you were still there at 1820, for example, they would be unlikely to issue a fine.” (This overlooks the fact that in several cases when tickets are placed against the windscreen the issue information cannot be read – in fact on one occasion only 80% of those were placed so that this information was visible.)
You suggest that the entire policy on car parking charges will be reconsidered at some time in the future and that, in the meantime, you would encourage the use the RingGo service. (Incidentally, you failed to mention that this service results in a 20p surcharge on all charges. I am making further enquiries as to how easy visitors find it to use this service and you will remember that my particular concern is with the negative impact on visitors of the concerns I have raised).
You further stated that there had been no increase in charges at Torcross for some time. In fact the hourly rate at Torcross (as shown on the sign-age) was 80p but the machines required a minimum payment of £1 and so you could argue that the cost of parking has not been increased although the charge has.
Lastly, you declined the invitation to have your thoughts recorded at this stage.
So, what now? Well, I have written a further letter – this time to the council’s Communication Officer as that seems to be the way it is these days – and I will let you know what happens when there is something to report.
Having decided that the time has “go public” on this – simply because neither councillors nor officers are answering letters and emails – I was astonished to discover this in the Times on Line. This is, of course, the digital version of The Times and today there is an article headlined “£2bn profit for councils as parking charges soar”. This is not the place to explore that but underneath among the comments was this.
“Some of the parking charges are iniquitous and grossly unfair and even amount to theft. On holiday recently and wanting to stop a short while in Totnes, Devon, the charge in one car park stated I had to pay something like £3 which was the charge for the overnight fee from 6pm. There was no flexibility to pay less and the notices in the car park threatened a huge fine for those who didn’t pay! “
Here, in the area controlled by the South Hams District Council, a great deal of our income comes from two sources: the retired and the tourist. This comment confirms what I have suggested – the way we handle car parking charges can have a marked effect on the districts income.