Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)



Mr Donohoe

  420.  Do these priorities go right across borough boundaries?
  (Mr Turner)  They go across borough boundaries on the red routes.

  421.  Only on the red routes? Is it on the red routes consistent? That is what I am asking? Is there consistency between boroughs?
  (Mr Turner)  Well, that is the purpose of the service-level agreement, to try and ensure that for those priority areas consistent enforcement is being achieved. In terms of the red lines, we believe the police are meeting their targets, which is that for the high priority areas of enforcement, a maximum of 1.2 observed offences per mile are seen, and I am reading from pageraph 16.


  422.  It is page 16 of the evidence, headed "Enforcement" and it comes under paragraph 5.2.
  (Mr Turner)  Where the police are not meeting their targets currently, which we are talking to them about, is the compliance rate which is being achieved on the parking and loading boxes where we have designed them so that legal parking and legal loading can take place and if it is time-limited, shall we say, to 20 minutes, the police are not currently getting the level of compliance to that 20-minute stay, so, in other words, they are allowing people to stay longer than the allocated time, but on the red lines the achievement of targets is actually being met.

Mr Donohoe

  423.  It is the inconsistencies that worry me, not just on the red routes, but elsewhere and that because of that, do you not think it is overdue that instead of small boroughs operating where people earn a bonus to issue parking tickets, we should have a situation where there is a level playing field and that every one of the authorities are taken out of the equation and that what we do is introduce a traffic police that has that as an all-embracing responsibility?
  (Mr Turner)  There are a number of points in there. The consistency argument, I believe, is very important because I have devised a broadly consistent engineering system for the red route network and I would like it to be consistently enforced in terms of the priorities that I believe are necessary, as I set out in the memorandum. Currently deployment of the police traffic wardens is carried out locally. The police are reconsidering this and I believe there is the likelihood that they will be deployed more from a central, single point which I think should improve consistency. The question of consistency between borough enforcement and the decriminalised regime is really a matter for Mr Lester.
  (Mr Lester)  If I can come on to that, the question of deployment of borough parking attendants is a matter for individual boroughs and there is legitimately going to be a wide variation of the level of activity that takes place in any part of the road network depending on the pressure both of illegal parking and of legal parking on that network.

Mr Donohoe:  Do you think it is reasonable that if somebody has paid for 40 minutes and is two minutes late they should be fined £30?

Chairman:  We do not want to get hooked too much on specifics, Mr Donohoe.

Mr Donohoe

  424.  It does concentrate the mind if you do such a thing.
  (Mr Lester)  What I would say is that the question of when people get enforced is a matter as much as anything else as when that particular patrol comes round. Not every street is patrolled every five minutes, indeed very few streets are patrolled every five minutes, but when they are patrolled, parking attendants are under instruction that every offence is penalised. It can then be considered back at the town hall if there is a mitigating circumstance or if there is a reason why that ticket should not have been issued, and I think it is very important that the parking attendants do not have discretion. We do not expect that they are the people who decide what regulations should apply and where, but it should be accountable through the local authority what regulations apply and where.

  425.  But do you not think it should be regulated across the whole of an area, not just in a particular borough?
  (Mr Lester)  Each road will vary, and it is not a question of borough by borough, but every road will vary. The degree of enforcement you need on a residential road where the only contravention is of the footway parking ban is clearly much less than the degree of enforcement that you need on a much busier shopping street where you have to make allowance for the deliveries, short-stay parking and often where no parking is allowed because of traffic flow reasons, and that must be decided street by street, I think.

Mr Stevenson

  426.  Could I seek further clarification on this very important issue of decriminalisation, enforcement and so on by asking what I hope is a straightforward question. Do you feel, both of you, Mr Lester and Mr Turner, that given what has happened since the implementation of the 1991 Road Traffic Act, which you have particularly been involved in, there is a case for transferring all of this type of responsibility away from the police to local authorities?
  (Mr Lester)  Well, I would clearly say that the evidence of the operation of the 1991 Act has resulted in a clear improvement in three particular ways. The first is that there is a considerable improvement in the level of compliance with regulations. We have got data from compliance surveys, which, admittedly, are difficult and expensive to get, which show that overall in every category there has been an improvement in compliance with the parking regulations and a reduction in the amount of illegal parking where parking is prohibited.

  427.  You say it is almost double.
  (Mr Lester)  Double the level of activity.

  428.  Double the extent of that achieved by the Metropolitan Police?
  (Mr Lester)  That is right, and in the last full year of operation by the Metropolitan Police, 1.9 million parking tickets were issued, and last year 3.7 million parking tickets were issued by the local authorities.

  429.  Why do you think that was? Tell me why that was.
  (Mr Lester)  Because there is a dedicated force used solely for parking enforcement and because they have very little discretion on the street. I would add in response to one point that Mr Donohoe made earlier on that no parking attendant is on commission. No parking attendant is on commission.
  (Mr Turner)  Could I just comment on that as well please? I think it is a complicated issue between whether it is a criminal offence or a decriminalised offence. I think what is important, as Mr Donohoe was alluding to, is consistency on the strategic road network because the strategic road network is going to become the responsibility of the Mayor and it is going to be the Mayor's roads, so I think consistency of enforcement, as it has been designed as a consistent network, needs to be established under a decriminalised or a criminalised system. I think it should also be recognised that the intention that remains is to achieve compliance with the regulations, so a measurement of the number of tickets which have been issued on the strategic road network is not what it is about. There is a slight difference there because paid for parking at meters is almost all on the local road network where the issuing of the charge notices is a legitimate activity for the local authority and there is a legitimate aim to retain the revenue.

  430.  Can I take it that your responses indicate that you do think there is a case here? After all, the transfer of responsibilities and the decriminalisations that have taken place since 1991 have led to this dedicated activity that you refer to and it is not only the decriminalisation but, in addition, the transfer of enforcement responsibilities that has made this work better. Is there a problem in your opinion between this decriminalised local enforcement responsibility by the boroughs and the red routes which are still subject to a criminal approach to this?
  (Mr Lester)  I do not think there needs to be. One of the important lessons I think we have learned from the 1991 Act is the importance of the accountability and a bringing together of the regulation making and the enforcement and the accountability through elected representatives. I think in the future as the Mayor becomes responsible for the strategic road network that accountability will become more built in and therefore the two systems will be able to work harmoniously hand in hand.

  431.  Who gets the money from the fines?
  (Mr Lester)  The money goes to the boroughs, but it is hypothecated and has been since 1958.

  432.  To what?
  (Mr Lester)  It is initially spent on providing further parking facilities and if expenditure there is either unnecessary or undesirable it is limited either to public transport services and facilities or to highway improvements and nothing else.

  433.  That is almost exactly what the Secretary of State is saying.
  (Mr Lester)  We find that that is an extremely important hypothecation and it makes the scheme far more acceptable and demonstrates it is not a back door tax.
  (Mr Turner)  The fines go to the Exchequer. I have long supported the need to look at the possibility of an administrative charge at least to support the traffic wardens in their activities so that there is some way of actually recognising that they are carrying out an activity without any self-funding element associated with it.

Mr Bennett

  434.  Mr Turner, you have been talking about the people who have been booked on the basis of going into red lanes or the parking tickets that are issued. What is the level of enforcement of the fines thereafter?
  (Mr Turner)  I can deal with the bus lane cameras issue as I have got information on that. The question of the follow-up rate associated with the police activity I think you should address to the police. I have not got any records associated with that.

  435.  Are you satisfied that the police give the follow-up activities sufficient priority?
  (Mr Turner)  I think there is always room for improvement, but I am confident from the work that we have seen on their follow-up activity rate associated with the bus lane cameras that they are pursuing the bus lane camera offences fairly vigorously. Fifty per cent of the total number of offences that we are viewing on the cameras result in notices of intended prosecutions being issued. Out of these 93 per cent result in a conditional offer of fixed penalty. The result of that is that 2.5 per cent of the original 100 per cent actually result in court appearances. So we can trace through and I would be happy to provide a note to show the break down of that.

  436.  So you feel enforcement is pretty effective. What about parking tickets?
  (Mr Lester)  I can certainly give similar information for penalty charge notices. The biggest problem that we have, and I suspect that this is disguised in Mr Turner's 50 per cent who do not get a notice of intended prosecution, is to do with the number of penalty charge notices issued where no keeper can be identified which is between ten and 15 per cent either because the information held by the DVLA is inadequate or in a much smaller number of cases it is foreign vehicles where we have no access to other European databases which would be extremely helpful to us. That means that although the penalty charge notice is put on the windscreen or handed to the driver, something like 19 per cent are left over plainly because of that big chunk that DVLA cannot identify. We write off about five per cent and the rest are either paid for at one stage or another or formally cancelled either because mitigating circumstances intervene or because the adjudicator intervenes.

Mr Brake

  437.  On the question of foreign cars or perhaps recalcitrant car owners, is there a system to ensure that even if you cannot trace the actual owner, if you pick up that car ten times or it receives notices ten times you can then impound it?
  (Mr Lester)  Increasingly the London boroughs are towing away vehicles where they are persistent evaders, they have a number of tickets that are outstanding, principally at present to get the name of a keeper for that vehicle. We do have legislation on the books which would allow all parking penalties to have to be paid before the car is released. We are currently awaiting regulations from the DETR for that. There is the problem of ensuring fairness in terms of considering any challenges to those ten or however many tickets there are outstanding by the adjudicator that needs to be resolved before we can be confident we can operate that system fairly.

  438.  That would apply to foreign vehicles as well as UK vehicles?
  (Mr Lester)  That would apply to any vehicles. Currently it is an unfortunate feature that foreign registered vehicles may in certain circumstances be more likely to be clamped or removed because it is the only way of enforcing the penalty. It is unfortunate. It is not something we would like to have. If we had access to the vehicle keeper databases in, say, France and Belgium, Holland and Germany, which are the main visitors to London, so that we could enforce the debts through those keepers then that would not be so likely to happen.


  439.  How important is it for bus priority schemes to be implemented more widely, and how effective are they in generating benefits?
  (Mr Turner)  I think it is absolutely essential that we introduce bus priority schemes as widely as possible because the nature of our road system is such that the buses are always going to be subject to delay or disruption without them and it is well established that people are dissuaded from using the buses not so much because of the journey time but the unreliability of their journey time and the uncertainty of whether or not the bus is going to come along.

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