Working towards a good parking strategy

Kathryn Shipman of the British Parking Association explains why, despite the curent issues, there is cause for optimism for the management of parking for local authorities.

The line goes ‘bubble, bubble toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble’. Although written 405 years ago, to me it speaks volumes about local authority management of parking today. Time and time again there are a couple of subjects that keep bubbling to the surface and are causing a stir for local authorities. They reared their head once again at the British Parking Association’s (BPA) Parking Summit held in London on 11 May, the purpose of which was to achieve a better understanding by all parties of how parking can be improved. Over 78 people attended representing the consumer, land owner, local authorities and operators, as well as government and media.

Once more the level of parking penalty charge debate surfaced. Penalty charges in England and Wales outside London have not been reviewed for a long time and no-one can be sure they are still effective. However government don’t want to review the charges: cast your mind back to before the General Election and David Cameron saying he wanted councils to invest in their town centres, including – advocating free parking.

As we all know the current government is fixated on the high street, aiming to return our high streets back into the vibrant and accessible places they once were before the recession. But we can’t simply blame parking; our shopping habits have changed and continue to evolve. It’s not as routine as it once was to trek to the supermarket once a week for one big shop – now it’s all about top-up shopping every few days. So if we’re already doing it, we don’t need an incentive, do we?

But, if like David Cameron says, motorists still want to drive all the way into the town centre and park, there will still need to be charges for that privilege as it’s these that help provide the funds to keep our streets safe and free from obstruction. Protecting spaces for residents or particular groups like disabled people, and enabling servicing and deliveries to take place in high streets that would become congested if parking wasn’t properly managed.

As long as prices are reasonable, users accept them, but only if they feel they are receiving a good quality service in return. Research shows that pricing, after location, personal safety and a safe location, are higher priorities.

A good parking strategy
Of course this policy has to be considered as part of an overall transport strategy for each locality. This is something that shadow transport minister, Daniel Zeichner, touched upon repeatedly when he addressed the BPA’s Parking Summit. A good parking strategy should ideally be developed alongside local authority transport policy and wider traffic management objectives. A holistic integrated approach to all transport modes across public and private areas is necessary to improve access to town centres.

Parking is vital to improve traffic management. And traffic management is vital to increase access to high streets. Simple isn’t it? This all seems very sensible, joined up and supportive of an integrated approach to the management of town centres, or at hospitals and in the surrounding streets too.

Attacked from both sides local authorities face problems when they are approached by landlords and landowners, including hospitals, educational facilities, and even local publicans, to help them manage and enforce parking on their behalf.

Enforcement of parking on private land is always in the spotlight, but it is often forgotten that local authorities own and operate private land too. However, the legality of them doing this is far from clear and decisions at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal have in effect put a stop to the collaboration and cooperation which took place before the advent of the Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE).

The government’s position on this issue is unclear and we have urged them to clarify if any legislative measures are to be introduced to rectify these anomalies, thus allowing local authorities to regulate private land where requested by the landlord. In addition, local authorities should then be able to undertake enforcement and the administration of penalties issued, using CPE powers, together with statutory adjudication to protect the public, as they already do on publicly provided off-street parking areas.

We believe the best results are achieved where local authority parking providers work in partnership with local businesses and traders on a formal basis, enabling both sides to understand where the other stands.

The future of parking
At the BPA’s Parking Forum in November 2015, held at the House of Commons, a representative from one of the major supermarkets explained that potentially, because of the adverse customer reaction, they were reluctant to enforce first time parking offenders; however with proper legislation in place for parking on private land it would be much more easily defensible.

These issues were also discussed at ‘Parking & Property 2016: the future of the car and car park’, held in London the day after the Summit. Here, the BPA launched the Parking 20:20, a report summarising the key findings following research exploring the future of parking. For those of you who attended Parkex in June, you will have heard it referenced in panel sessions during the Parkex Hub. The research, conducted by Imperial College Graduate Justus Loebler, seeks to identify the future role of parking and the impact of technology on mobility, pointing to changes in the way that parking services are being managed and delivered, and how they must integrate into the wider transport infrastructure.

The future of parking will change rapidly over the coming years and new products and services will enter the market, disrupting many aspects of the parking sector. As the leading association for parking professionals, the BPA is committed to supporting members, and helping them identify opportunities.

One such opportunity is to encourage local authorities to embrace technology to provide a better service for customers. Data, and the data held by local authorities, is key to unlocking the potential for delivering a truly integrated service encompassing all aspects of mobility. Working with other organisations and stakeholders, including government, is vital to ensure that existing regulations and new, incoming legislation is fit for purpose and enables progress and inclusivity.

Improving accessibility
The BPA has long been lobbying to remove the ban on camera technology in car parks that came into force by way of the Deregulation Act. But we believe the ban has done more harm than good. If used properly and responsibly, CCTV and ANPR has a role to play in supporting economic activity. Parking managers up and down the country are looking at ways to improve accessibility to car parking for people with disabilities, providing opportunities for shoppers to ‘park now and pay later’ using new technologies, many of them designed and built in the UK.

For example, one of the most effective ways of making it easier for motorists to park without the stress of having to worry about how long they are parking is to embrace new technology. The increasing use in the private sector of automatic number plate recognition enables motorists to park first and pay later, that is to stay as long as they like but to make payment either on their return or online within, say, 24 hours. This reinforces our argument for removing the ban on camera technology in local authority car parks, making the parking experience as frictionless as possible. But don’t let this stop you from taking action now.

One example of how to do this is to introduce easier payment systems. Much of the work the BPA has done demonstrates that there is a need for local authorities and private operators managing parking to be flexible in how they manage their car parks where they make a charge. Paying in advance (the traditional way through providing pay and display machines) has its place in some locations but clearly in others it can create a deterrent to town centre visitors to have to return to their vehicles sooner than they otherwise would. This is why we encourage local authorities and private operators to provide alternative methods of payment – in addition to paying in the car park.

There are opportunities to pay by phone, pre-book online, direct motorists through apps and sensors to vacant bays. There are opportunities for security and safety innovations, even introducing delivery hubs in car parks for retailers, facilitating collection points for motorists who have pre-ordered online. Parking management should be used as a tool to support economic growth, reduce congestion, and improve road safety, while providing a fair service for a range of road users. Fairness, raising standards and delivering professionalism is a key objective for the association.

This year we have been particularly active in calling for a single Standards Setting Body (SSB) which would build on the foundations that the BPA has already established for private parking, when it created the Approved Operator Scheme with a Code of Practice and POPLA; its independent appeals service.

Current case law is not sufficient to satisfy the call for better regulation which both the BPA and consumer organisations seek. The BPA envisages the SSB being accountable to government but self-funding. Building on the regulatory model for local authorities it would ensure that standards continue to rise in the management of private parking, maintaining one code of practice for the whole sector and ensuring that an independent appeals service is established.

There is a strong feeling that our lobbying efforts are having a real impact and the key messages are getting through. We have good reason to be optimistic that the view from the top in government is changing and that measures will soon be in place to resolve a number of issues relating to the management of parking that require urgent attention.

Further Information
www.britishparking.co.uk

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