Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Westminster City Council

  I am pleased to provide Parliament's Transport Committee with the City Council's response to your press release dated 9 August 2005. Our reply deals with the points in the order they appear in the press notice.

  Are local authorities carrying out parking control reasonably, fairly and accountably? How is performance evaluated?

  We can not answer for other local authorities, although the City Council believes that we provide reasonable, fair and accountable parking controls. Although it is difficult to quantify these factors, especially as Westminster operates probably what is the largest parking service in the UK.

  Our performance is evaluated through correspondence, regular area-based forms, annual parking surveys and consultation exercises of varying scope. The City Council's Parking Service has issued our parking charter which promises to provide the best parking service in the UK, and also to provide firm, fair and excellent enforcement and ancillary services.

  What action would raise the standard of parking enforcement activity? Is Statutory Guidance needed to promote consistency?

  Regular review of the enforcement protocols, such as conducted by the City Council. In the past year we have revised our own protocols, to assist business servicing and to stop strict enforcement of meter feeding.

  The Association of London Government's recent announcement to review the Code of Practice for Parking Enforcement, could potentially have a large impact, as this document has not been substantially reviewed since 1993.

  Use of the British Parking Association's model enforcement contract or similar (such as Westminster's) that do not incentivise parking attendants to issue more penalty charge notices (PCNs). Westminster's enforcement contractor is rewarded for the quality of their PCN issue, ie the rate of cancelled PCNs, the volume paid, upheld, unchallenged, etc, not the gross number issued.

  The retention of suitable enforcement staff is another problem and there is a combination of low pay, poor working conditions and public hostility (and even violence), that undermine staff morale. The City Council has attempted to resolve these problems by encouraging our contractor to offer improved pay and working conditions and to incentivise staff with payments for the quality of their work.

  The City Council is actively embracing new technology and plans to photograph all ticketable acts by April 2006. This is part of our process of moving towards a fairer and more customer-focused service by embracing new technology, utilising digital cameras, mobile phone payment, and cashless parking.

  The City Council is facilitating this process with Vertex SW1, in our Transformation of Parking Services (TOPS) programme. TOPS is introducing a new IT solution for our PCN processing and this has also involved further system enhancements to allow the City Council to transform it's end to end business processes within Parking. The new solution and transformed business will allow the City Council to operate more efficiently and in a more customer-focused manner.

  The project has been running since April 2004 and has involved all side of the Parking service within Westminster and it is hoped that we will be leaders in the provision of back office processing and customer handling. The TOPS programme went live in March 2005.

  Is the appeals process fair and effective? How could it be improved?

  Generally speaking the City Council believes that the appeals process is fair and effective, although it is difficult for the parking enforcement authority to assess objectively these qualities. Nevertheless, the City Council on occasion believes that some adjudicators' decisions are perverse, and the process to challenge these is cumbersome and time consuming. We would, therefore, seek a greater consistency in the adjudicated decisions in accordance with the law, and streamlining the appeal process to allow local authorities to challenge perverse and poor adjudicator decisions.

  Is it appropriate that local authorities should keep the revenue generated from parking fines? Is there any evidence that the opportunity to raise revenue through decriminalised parking enforcement has inappropriately influenced authorities parking policy and enforcement activity?

  Since the inception of decriminalised parking enforcement in 1994, the City Council has supported the retention of the parking revenue by the enforcing local authority, particularly given the restrictions on the spending of any surplus.

  There is no evidence that parking controls and enforcement is inappropriately influenced by the desire to raise revenue, and this has certainly never influenced the City Council. In the past when considering the introduction of parking controls we had consulted all residents and businesses in a given area for their views. We would also conduct parking surveys to assess the situation before an informed decision was taken.

  In addition the City Council has recently taken decisions on our enforcement policies that have led to a decrease in revenue, but are seen to be fairer to the public. These include the extension of observation times for loading/unloading vehicles, in 2003, and in 2005 relaxation of the enforcement of meter feeding.

  In June 2005 the Greater London Assembly's Transport Committee produced the report "Parking Enforcement in London". The Committee found no evidence in Greater London that parking policies and enforcement were led by or influenced by the wish to raise revenue. Of this report's 20 recommendations, of which 17 were down to the boroughs, the City Council either has already implemented them or is in the process of doing so. Only recommendation 17 for a "London Delivery Disc" is not being considered as we have already relaxed our enforcement of loading/unloading vehicles. We believe that the proposed "disc" is unnecessary and would be subject to fraud and misuse.

  What criteria should be used to determine the level of parking provision that should be provided?

  For the City Council the main aim of parking controls and enforcement are to:

    To control and co-ordinate on-street and off-street parking to reduce the overall level of parking, while maintaining adequate availability of parking space for essential and priority users. (Westminster's Unitary Development Plan, December 2004.)

  The City Council has six main reasons for controlling parking provision:

    1.  to support the overall objectives of traffic restraint/reduction by helping to minimise the adverse social, economic and environmental impacts of vehicular traffic;

    2.  to improve road safety;

    3.  to establish and maintain a fair system which protects special needs where these exist, such as the needs of residents, doctors, hospitals and people with disabilities;

    4.  to acknowledge the unsuitability of some areas for parking, especially by heavy vehicles;

    5.  to reduce congestion for all road users, particularly on A roads and busy bus routes; and

    6.  to promote development which supports more sustainable travel choices and reduces the need to travel.

  What are the wider impacts of current parking policy and illegally parked vehicles?

  Parking controls play an important part in the Council's transport strategy by regulating the amount of traffic within the City and encouraging the use of public transport. Parking controls also assist by ensuring that local amenity is protected by controlling the class of vehicle allowed to park. This is particularly important in respect of coaches and goods vehicles. The Council operates an on-street residents' parking scheme—Respark—which allows bona fide residents to obtain permits allowing them to park near their homes. We also operate a disabled parking permit scheme for residents and some non-residents (employees, hospital patients and students).

  What role should parking policy play in traffic management and demand management?

  By discouraging car/vehicle commuting and other unnecessary vehicle journeys in Westminster, parking controls and enforcement are a valuable and effective traffic and demand management tool. Parking controls are also useful in maintaining traffic flow, preventing obstruction of the highway, keeping important junctions clear of parked vehicles, ensuring the safe use of pedestrian crossings, and aiding highway safety plans.

  How can public understanding and acceptance of the need for parking policy be achieved?

  Through full consultation when major changes are being considered, eg extended hours of control, new parking controls, etc. In the past the City Council in 1994 and 2002 consulted residents, business and visitors on a whole range of parking issues. These exercises led to a number of new initiatives that had been suggested through this process.

  Ensure that the hours of parking control, the on-street tariffs and the on-street regulations are regularly reviewed to ensure that they meet the parking and loading demands of each local area. It is also helpful to respond promptly to correspondence and to establish local forums to listen to the public.

  Education of the public and press (if possible) of the benefits of parking controls, particularly in busy town centres.

  It is important that on-street the signs, lines, and the regulations are straightforward and clear. It is also important that the signs, lines and on-street equipment should be fully maintained and replaced when necessary.

  Utilise customer based initiatives to enhance the reputation of the parking controls and their enforcement regime. For instance the City Council has recently issued its Parking Charter. The Charter pledges that the City Council's Parking Services will be Firm, Fair and Excellent.

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