Today we can elect new Councillors in many parts of the country. I do hope all the oppressed motorists of the UK will take this opportunity to tell their would be Councillors we are fed up with the way we are treated by petty officialdom at the local level, as well as by our rapacious government who see the motorist as one of the prime sources of extra revenue.
The national press this morning highlights just how many motorists now end up paying speeding fines and parking fines. Some of them deserve them, for parking in places which block the traffic or hinder others, and for driving too fast in difficult conditions. Others are caught out by bizarre changes of speed limit on good roads, by confusion over what the parking rules are on any given piece of kerb, and by the officious efficiency of the public sector when it comes to taking money off us. If only they were equally efficient and determined to provide good service in all the other departments.
In recent conversations I have been told of the kind of intolerance shown by some parking officials to usually law abiding people. One person came out of his house to take his car away from an overnight space at 8.32 in the morning. A ticket was placed on his vehicle because he was meant to have moved it at 8.30. Another found a ticket on his car because the boot protruded beyond the line marking the end of the parking bay, even though the vehicle position was not blocking anyoneâ€™s entrance or impeding traffic flow. A taxi driver explained why he could not drop someone off in a location where he was not blocking the traffic, because taxi drivers are under the steely eye of the surveillance cameras in London all the time they are at work and they would be fined.
Whilst the press is right to highlight the financial impact of this surrogate for taxation, the steady stream of fines, there is another feature which should worry us. One third of motorists apparently have fallen foul of the rules and had to pay up. The two thirds of us who escaped fines have still had to run the gauntlet of the sometimes unreasonable and perverse rules. We have had to change our driving style to accommodate endless scanning of the horizon for all the signs and instructions which now dictate how we drive. Instead of spending the maximum time on surveying the road ahead for hazards and adjusting direction and speed to the conditions, motorists now spend much of their time seeking out the frequent changes of rule and watching their speedometers to try to keep within them. It makes people worse drivers. The whole process puts people on edge too often and for too long.
The same happens to us when we have finally parked the car at the journeyâ€™s end Have you felt that nagging fear that you will overstay your time in the local car park because it takes longer to buy something in the shops than you thought? Have you ever had to abandon your purchase because of the queue for the till and dash for the car to avoid the car park vigilante getting you for a few minutes over your time? Have you ever stood in the rain by the car puzzling over whether you can or cannot park in a given spot because the rules and signs are unclear? Have you ever been done because you misread the signs? Why canâ€™t you top up the fee you paid on entry in the car parks where you have to pay in advance, if you need to? If limiting the time of your stay is so important to the Council, there could be an allowance of extra time you could pay for before the penalty kicks in.
There is a parking area in Wokingham where a municipal car park shares a common entrance with a private car park. People often get caught out, parking in the wrong part. They have to pay a penalty, even though they have paid and put a sticker in the windscreen, because they have parked in the wrong space. I recently wanted to park in a central London side street. The residentsâ€™ parking places were clearly banned to me. Next to one of them was a single yellow line, creating a space for a single car in the line of parked vehicles, well away from the turning. There was no sign up to tell me when the single yellow line applied. Just round the corner on the main road there was a red line for an urban clearway, and a sign telling me that could be used for parking at the time of my arrival. I eventually found a space some way away on the main road, where the parking impeded traffic flows more than would have been the case in the side road. I could not afford to take the risk on the yellow line. Sometimes there can be as many as three different regimes for the timing of parking on the same stretch of road. You need to walk up and down checking for all the signs to make sure you have understood. Many of the places fail to tell you on the signs whether a bank holiday counts as a Sunday or not.
The truth is that parking controls and charges have become too complicated. Of course we need rules to prevent people blocking side roads to traffic, and to stop them restricting the width of the carriageways of main roads when they are busy. Of course it makes sense for a Council which has had to buy a piece of land and needs to spend money on maintaining the car park to charge the users for their use rather than putting the whole thing onto the Council Tax. This system has now been turned into a money spinner, seeking to make Council profit out of their near monopoly provision of public parking. It has also been over complicated by too many officials endlessly varying the rules of the parking schemes and spending our money on reconfiguring the street, the pavement, and the parking spaces.
So as you go to vote today, try to have a word with those who would represent us. Tell them itâ€™s taking the pleasure out of shopping and increasing the pressure on going to work or visiting friends. We are under the cosh of the surveillance society. We have to dance to the tune of petty officialdom. They seem to forget that parking is a service to make our lives easier, not another way to terrorise us and make us nervous about what we are doing. Surely our Councillors could unite to get some commonsense back into the system? If they did we would need fewer officials, so we could be charged less for the whole process.