Thursday, March 04, 2010

The motorists fightback begins ...

Who is going to speak up for the exploited motorist?
Why aren't politicians taking more notice of the increasingly angry motorist who feels powerless to do anything about our unjust parking laws, asks Philip Johnston.
By Philip Johnston
Daily Telegraph
26 Feb 2010

Near where I live in south London is a facility as rare as hen's teeth: a road right by a railway station where it has been possible to park – for free. For years, commuters in the know happily parked there and travelled into the City, leaving their cars all day, hardly able to believe their luck.

Until last week, that is, when meters were installed by the local council, even though the street is a cul-de-sac far from the town centre. Since there is no through traffic, there is no congestion and so no earthly reason why there should be a charge for parking – other than to raise money for the council coffers, which we are constantly told does not happen.

The powers on which local authorities rely are contained in the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act, which makes it clear that charges must not be levied to raise revenue, but only to make appropriate traffic-management provision. My council has ignored this and attempted to cash in. Ironically, because the time limits make it impossible to leave the car all day, nobody parks on the road by the station any more. So thousands of pounds have been wasted on installing the meters and painting the lines.

Parking laws in this country are not only unjust but are often incompetently administered. Yet does anyone speak up for the harassed, frustrated and increasingly angry motorist who feels powerless to do anything about it? You will look in vain for any of the political parties to raise the standard of revolt.

This week, however, a coalition of motoring organisations has published its own Manifesto on the Reform of Parking and Traffic Enforcement. It is calling for the parties to commit to tightening the regulations and so ensuring that parking charges and penalties are properly and legally applied.

In the 52 years since the first parking meters appeared in London, a vast industry has spread across the country, employing an army of nearly 200,000 wardens, administrators, managers, camera operators, line painters, sign makers, wheel clampers and the rest, all of whom have to be paid for from the billions of pounds raised by what is, in essence, a tax.

Parking restrictions were supposed to be solely and exclusively about traffic management and congestion relief, not about raising money. Yet, according to the Local Government Finance Statistics 2009, councils last year made £1.3 billion from on- and off-street parking and spent about £820 million on maintaining and enforcing the regime. So the surplus revenue from parking was more than £500 million, a phenomenal amount of money. Last year, more than nine million parking tickets were issued – up from 5.7 million in six years.

The decriminalisation of parking, which began in London in 1991 and allowed local authorities to take over parking enforcement, has added to the sense of grievance among those fined for infractions because the penalties are often out of all proportion to the offence and there is no means of pursuing justice through the courts.

Parking restrictions are certainly needed in town centres to avoid congestion. But greedy councils with their rows of meters often kill off businesses by making it too expensive for people to stop to shop; instead, they go to the free car park attached to the out-of-town superstore, thereby hastening the decline of the town centre while adding to traffic pollution.

In truth, the mainstream political parties have a vested interest in the system because they all run councils that benefit mightily from keeping things as they are.

Yet if one of them had the sense to adopt the motorists' manifesto – or even acknowledge that there is a problem that needs to be addressed – they might even sweep the country.

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