Parking in London
"If enforcement is to be effective, it needs to be fair.
Enforcement must be equitable, proportionate and governed
by clear and transparent standards... The system must be
democratically accountable, and it must be perceived to
be by the public."
The new enforcers: Local authorities and the penalty
notice system, Fellows' Associates, 2004
Equally uncertain and worrying for the Council is what would happen to
parking revenues if a London-wide system was introduced.
RBKC Direct, Newsletter 6, February 2005
The new on-street enforcement contract with NCP continues to work
well. NCP continues to demonstrate an understanding and appreciation
of the needs and expectations of the Council and residents. Daily PCN
issuance is now slightly below the levels achieved in previous
years. Whilst there is still a small shortfall on a year-to-date
basis, officers and NCP management remain confident that the shortfall
will be recovered by the end of the first year.
to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee by Nicholas Paget-Brown
(Paragraph 4.5), RBKC Councillor, 2007
Are Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) treated equally irrespective of
the rate at which they issue Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs)? Or do
those who issue PCNs at a higher rate get more overtime allocation,
while those who issue PCNs at a lower rate risk losing their jobs?
Based on data gathered via a January 2013 Freedom of Information
request to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea covering the
2012 calendar year, we conduct statistical hypothesis tests to
establish whether there is (a) a significant positive association
between high rate of PCN issue and allocation of overtime and (b) a
signficant association between low rate of PCN issue and termination
Click here to see the data and explore
Civil Enforcement Officers
You have to laugh at the new term for Parking Attendant - "Civil
Enforcement Officer". Actually there is nothing "civil" about the way
these revenue-raising operatives blindly enforce draconian parking
enforcement rules against motorists, most of whom are simply doing
everything they can to park correctly in good faith.
should just be straightforward and call them "Council Enrichment
Operatives" or "Council-Sponsored Thieves" instead. But being
straightforward and honest would be too much to expect from any
here to watch a RBKC CEO fraudulently attempting to
issue PCNs to workmen who should be given 20 minutes for loading and
unloading (April 2013).
New parking rules
New parking regulations came into effect in England and Wales at the
end of March 2008. One has to be amazed at the way the rights of
motorists are thrown out the window in these new supposedly "fairer" rules as the
government makes yet another shameless grab at our wallets
via our motor vehicles. As one example, Penalty Charge Notices
are to be deemed to be valid even if they were not served properly
(either by handing it to the driver or by attaching it to the vehicle)
as is required at present. This denies the driver his or her basic
right to collect evidence in defence of an alleged contravention,
encourages fraudlent PCN issue by PAs and
allows Councils to profitably pursue trivial short-term infringements of
parking rules (in violation of the legal principle of de minimis
non curat lex). In addition, some common contraventions such as parking
on a single yellow line are to be classified as "serious" offences that attract
a higher penalty (e.g. £120 instead of £100). Of course we are
told this has everything to do with safety and nothing to do with
the fact that single yellow line contraventions are the most
common contraventions, and have therefore been especially selected to
boost Council budgets!
Ever wondered about the precise relationship between Councils and
the on-street contractors that enforce decriminalised parking
legislation on their behalf? Just how do Councils incentivise
contractors and how do they measure their performance? Wonder no
longer as we take a look at the
decriminalised parking enforcement contract between a central London borough and their on-street
Is decriminalised parking enforcement about revenue raising or about
keeping the streets free of obstructions and
providing residents parking? In February 2005 I spent
four hours on street with a Westminster Parking Attendant trying to find out. You can decide for yourself (as we ticket Royal Mail vans, unmarked police cars, a BT van and a disabled driver and call in the clampers on a driver who dares to pay for 40 minutes of parking in two
lots of 20 minutes!) It is interesting to compare this experience with the rather different (unsurprisingly perhaps) experience of
the chairperson of the recent London Assembly scrutiny investigation into Parking in London.
Recent Media Features
Dan Milmo from The Guardian has written a May 2007 article about the NCP/RBKC contract discussed above ("Clamp urged on
So has Gary Cleland from the Telegraph ("Parking wardens told to book 100 cars an hour)".
BBC 2 aired an excellent Money
Programme: Parking Mad investigation into parking enforcement on
Friday 4 August 2006 at 7pm. It was particularly interesting to see
the head of Westminster Parking Services trying to deny the revenue and
enforcement targets (for PCNs, clampings, removals, the number of
tickets that should be issued per PA per hour and so on) that are
so clearly present (in columns labelled "2006/2007 Target") in the Westminster Parking Services Business Plan for
2006/2007 (February 2006, local copy).
I featured in a May 2006
Saturday Times magazine article about "Britain's Parking
Hell" by David
BBC 1 aired a
"Whistleblower" programme on Wednesday 1 June 2005
at 9pm about decriminialised parking enforcement. We saw prima facie
evidence of illegal ticket
issue, bribery, corruption
and even criminal activity (if only I could say I was surprised...)
This program played a role in APCOA losing their decriminalised parking
enforcement contract in Kensington and Chelsea (subsequently picked
up by NCP).
Channel 4 recently featured a Dispatches special "Confessions of a Parking Attendant," which was rather consistent with my experience. Here is
a summary of the Dispatches special.
Not to be outdone, ITV aired a program called "Parking Mad" at
7:30pm on Tuesday 22 March on ITV London. Very interesting
viewing! The highlight for me was the council parking attendants
sneaking around and ticketing vehicles
in a quiet cul de sac at 3am - definitely helping to keep traffic flowing
there then, and nothing to do with making money of course!!
Avoiding tickets and your rights when dealing with Council Parking
- Here is a website offering good advice on
avoiding parking tickets. Enforcement (particularly by the Royal Borough
of Kensington and Chelsea) is now so overzealous you
should take care to safeguard yourself and your car by reading these
- Wanting to pay for your parking and taking every commonsense precaution to
park legally is not enough. Read this case study to find out why.
- Do not ask Council Parking Attendants for permission to park
somewhere illegal while you do something really important. The Council
Parking Vulture in
question or another one of his/her ilk not familiar with your story
may very well issue you with a ticket while you are gone.
An insight into the pressures on Council Parking Attendants
- In my many discussions with them, I have come to understand
that Council Parking Attendants are caught in a sandwich between,
on the one hand, revenue-driven pressure from the Council (or the
private contractor working on behalf of the Council)
to issue tickets and, on the other hand, angry
members of the public who believe parking enforcement should be
fair and carried out in accordance with common sense. Many
Parking Attendants I have spoken to actually agree wholeheartedly with the latter
point of view but feel that they are powerless to do anything about it.
- As I understand, the problem starts right at the top. The Council
views parking enforcement as a good source of revenue (forget
anything they tell you about keeping traffic flowing etc. - that may
be a side effect of ruthless enforcement but it's certainly not
the primary motivation). To collect this revenue, they contract
their on-street parking services enforcement out to a
private company (NCP in the case of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea).
As you can see in the contract discussed above,
there are financial rewards
for the contractors based on the number of tickets issued etc. After
all, the contractors are private companies in it for the money,
while the Councils want to collect as much revenue as possible, so
such an arrangement is mutually beneficial.
- This pressure to generate revenue filters down onto the street.
Supervisors push PAs to issue as many tickets as possible.
Failure to meet a target results in a "discussion" with a
supervisor and possible disciplinary action. Westminster have
acknowledged that NCP operates an
internal bonus scheme for PAs that meet certain performance
targets but the details are not as yet known.
- Parking attendants are not encouraged to use their discretion
and are closely monitored to ensure they issue
the maximum number of tickets possible. Besides having to make a note
in their logbooks as to where they are every three minutes, supervisors
(who themselves have probably been given operating targets to achieve) patrol the streets;
if they see illegally parked vehicles that have not been issued
with Penalty Charge Notices, this could result in disciplinary
action against PAs who were in the area at the time.
- Before their shifts, PAs are briefly by their supervisors on the top targets of the day
(e.g. scaffolders' vehicles) and are also told
which company vehicles they should and should not target.
- It is not surprising then that
these pressures result in PAs occasionally issuing illegal tickets,
and in misleading uninformed members of the public about their rights
in order to achieve their targets.
What to do if you receive a Penalty Charge Notice or Notice to Owner
- Firstly, familiarize yourself with the the
enforcement and appeals
process that the Councils operate under. There is a procedure to follow; it will take many months to
complete and there is nothing that can be done to speed it up. The
Councils will in general not stir themselves an inch beyond their
obligations under the law, and seem to have no procedures in place to
cater for common sense objections or queries outside of this
framework. The sooner you understand this and the quicker you learn
the procedures the more frustration you will save yourself. I have
also put together a case study of the
appeals process for your information.
- Although it makes for depressing reading initially, do not be put
off by the incompleteness of the law and the narrow grounds for appeal
that the law seems to offer. Study Section 66 of the Road Traffic Act
carefully and read anecdotes of successful appeals to see which
paragraphs of the act may be relevant to your case (here is just one
example; the web site www.parkingticket.co.uk
contains several others; also check
out details of key appeal cases that may apply to you).
- If you have already paid your fine, but on reflection now wish to
appeal it, all hope may not be lost. In particular, if you paid the
fine by credit card, it may be possible to "charge back" the fine to
the council through your credit card issuer (in the same way as you
would if you had a dispute with a retailer over goods sold), thus
rendering the fine "unpaid". At the
very least your credit card company can send a "Request for
Information" or RFI request to the Council whereupon they must provide proof
that your card was charged legitimately. By initiating (and later
cancelling) a chargeback, I have successfully managed to get
my case into the channels usually reserved for "unpaid" fines
(i.e. where appeal is a possibility). If you follow this route, be
prepared to receive intimidating letters from the council
containing untrue and unnecessarily forceful sentences such as
"Enforcement action will continue until payment is received"; this is
in fact not true because in the case that you successfully appeal the
PCN, no payment is due and enforcement action ceases.
- Follow the process - when you receive your Notice to Owner, write
to the Council laying out your grounds for appeal, mitigating
circumstances etc. and attaching copies of any evidence that you
have. Remember the poor souls replying to these letters (generally
nice people open to logical argument) get shouted at if they don't
turn out 20 to 30 replies a day so lay out your letter clearly and be
polite and concise.
- If your representation to the Council is rejected (and you receive
a Notice of Rejection), you may appeal your case formally through the Parking
and Traffic Appeals Service.
- The resources below give much more complete information and
advice (e.g. in cases of clamping or vehicle removal).
What Council Parking Services need to do
By issuing around 800,000 tickets a year, Westminster Parking Services
(through its contractor NCP) is making itself pretty unpopular (to put
it mildly) with hundreds and thousands of people. Here are some ways
in which they (and other council parking services) could improve:
- Stop petty and overzealous enforcement of parking rules.
- Stop giving inducements/commission payments to parking attendants
encouraging them to issue tickets to boost revenue. Schemes such as
the one described in this Evening
Standard article about bonuses for parking attendants are not
acceptable. Remarkably, this recent BBC news
article suggests that some aspects of this practice have now been
terminated; however this Times
newspaper article suggests ARGOS points are now being used as
incentives for attendants who "achieve agreed targets".
parking attendants to cancel (or have their supervisors cancel) a PCN if a motorist arrives while a PCN
is in the process of being issued.
- Review offences that are nonsensical and/or illogical in terms
of traffic management and/or which place PAs at high risk of assault
- e.g. meter feeding should only be an offence
if the total time purchased exceeds the maximum time allowed (UPDATE July 2005: Well done to Westminster Parking Services for scrapping meter
feeding as an offence. Westminster's
Cabinet Spokesman for Transport is quoted as saying, "This is an offence
which has probably caused more anger and frustration among drivers
than any other because effectively we were punishing them for trying
to pay for their parking... This rule offended against natural justice
and caused no end of conflict on the street and we are glad to see the
back of it.")
- Stop ticketing the vehicles of scaffolders, telephone technicians, couriers
and others who are unavoidably in the area as a consequence
of providing services to local residents (UPDATE July 2005: Well done again
to Westminster Parking Services for having a policy to not ticket vehicles
involved in the erection of scaffolding for health and safety reasons.)
- Stop moaning about public
reaction to and treatment of parking attendants (also described in this
Guardian article) and realise that this results directly from the
draconian legislation they are enforcing
and the (often pigheaded and oppressive) manner in which the
legislation is sometimes enforced. If they doubt the latter, they should consider
the case of the Canary Islands where no one minds the parking
attendants - because they issue optional fines of 2 euros 50 cents! Even the union UNISON (which represents many
parking attendants) suggests that the government should "review parking control
methods, to encourage its use primarily as a method of public safety
and congestion control, rather than a revenue collection service."
As far back as 2002, a UNISON spokesman said "
We know some local authorities, or more particularly the
private companies working for them, are exploiting drivers and
attendants alike in their ruthless pursuit of making money out
of fines. This has a knock-on effect on the health and safety
of attendants, putting them at even greater risk of violence
in an already dangerous job, and this has got to stop".
The GMB Union is equally vehement in its condemnation of the status quo.
Also some badly trained parking attendants are no angels
themselves - they
readily lose their temper, hit motorists with their handheld
computers, threaten to spit on motorists, attempt to deceive motorists
about their rights etc. (I've seen/personally experienced all of
- Educate the public about
their parking rights, and respond quickly and accurately to
enquiries (I sent one in to Westminster Parking Services and it took
them well over a week to reply; Kensington & Chelsea Parking Services
are much better, replying almost instantly).
What Government needs to do
Westminster Parking Services and others are only allowed to act in the
way they do because they are exploiting (to the fullest extent
possible) the rights given to them under the Road Traffic Act
1991. Government needs to take a serious look at this vague and
incomplete piece of legislation paying careful attention to:
- Lowering the price of the fines to be commensurate with the
offence (e.g. 10 pounds for minor parking offences not causing an
- Broadening motorists' grounds of appeal.
- Placing obligations on Councils to provide adequate free parking
where road space is available and not required by local residents, particularly around underground stations
in outer London.
- Drastically simplifying the morass of parking regulations and
making restricted areas more visibile (perhaps by
requiring the colour coding parking bays/kerbs to make it obvious
which areas are restricted and how they are restricted).
- Putting the same kind of time limits and responsibilities on
Councils as are placed on the motorist (e.g. a Council must respond to
a representation from a motorist within 28 days).
- Enshrining in law the right for companies delivering services
to local residents to be exempt from parking regulations (unless
causing a serious obstruction or where safety is at risk).
- In the case of unpaid fines, remove the ability for private debt
collection agencies to add "collection fees" to the amount owing.
- Investigate NCP's near-monolopy of off-street parking provision as well
as NCP's role in enforcing on-street parking legislation in many boroughs - surely
a blatant conflict of interest?
Some statistics about parking tickets issued in London
My PCN statistics page shows
Association for London Government figures for the number of PCNs
issued by London boroughs for every year from 1999/2000 to 2003/2004
inclusive, as well as the revenue (£297.4 million in total) and
net profit (£112.6 million in total) on their Parking Accounts. As you
can see, generating revenue and income through parking services is a
very profitable industry (average 38 percent profit margin) that is
growing rapidly in many boroughs (PCNs issued grew by an average
compound growth rate of 10% per annum for every year since 1999).