I’M sure almost all drivers in this town have at least one experience of financial persecution at the hands of one regulatory body or another for an almost imperceptible infraction of a nonsensical rule, not law, applied by one of a growing number of entities working ‘on our behalf.’
Speed cameras, bus gates, parking facilities. Dangerous words if you’re in a car!
What should be there for our protection and convenience seem to most drivers I’ve spoken to to be trip wires designed to maximise revenue which we’re told is pumped back into our highways and byways for our continued enjoyment.
The reason for this article is to illustrate the barefacedness and complete nonsensical, dispassionate approach of the UK’s largest private parking management company.
Excel Parking are popping up all over the city, managing car parks for some of our top retailers and ensuring us pesky motorists are parking where we should be out on the streets. Once the domain of the council’s parking attendants, it is now the feeding ground of the privateer.
Now I’m not one to gripe about a private company making money. I’m in the private sector myself and as such have a fairly good understanding of what I have to do to make a buck.
One thing I don’t do is burn suppliers or contractors. No suppliers, no business! No contractors, no business! In business a certain amount of common sense has to prevail to keep things running smoothly, even if it means breaking your own rules from time to time.
In this case, my mother, Tina, was looking after my two-year-old daughter on one of the hottest days of this year and took a trip to Mothercare near Moorfoot. Upon reaching the car park, managed by Excel Parking Services, she found it to be empty apart from one other car.
This meant there were more than 30 spaces for any other patrons to use. (It is important to note that parking is free to anyone shopping at Mothercare.)
Being a conscientious grandmother, she headed for the shade of the trees so as to keep the car cool for her granddaughter.
Within 15 minutes she had made her purchases and returned to find a parking ticket and no-one in sight.
Disgusted with this cowardly act, I immediately phoned Excel. A recorded voice informed me that this was a premium rate number and I would be charged 51p per minute. I was then placed on hold to await ‘the next available agent.’
As I watched the timer on my phone count up, I also counted the pennies I was already paying to Excel Parking Services. (2mins 25secs = £1.31). After negotiating the polite but obviously inexperienced operative, I was put on hold again to await her supervisor (4mins 17secs = £2.24).
At this point, a very polite lady came on the line and was very sympathetic to my mother’s plight. I told her I believed that ‘this was more about quotas than ensuring fair parking for all and that common sense should prevail in this case’.
Unbelievably the kind lady agreed with me without argument. She advised me to write in with my complaint and that would put a hold on the matter while it was ‘reconsidered.’ My smart business brain should’ve smelled a rat (7mins 22secs = £3.83). I wrote in and thought nothing more of it, fully expecting ‘a tail between the legs’ apology for the stupidity of a rogue parking attendant.
Less than a week later a letter was sent in reply. You know the kind of letter. Exactly the same as the first one, only it starts with the line ‘further to your correspondence’ and ends with ‘we regret to inform you.’
My blood began to boil. Thinking back to my first phone experience and the money I had already given to them, I knew I was about to give more but I also knew this was going to be a shorter call! The good thing was I had requested photographic evidence of the infraction which they sent. The photos do clearly show that my mother had indeed parked outside of the white lines, but they also showed that the car park was empty.
After the usual auto answer and the obligatory wait for response from ‘the next available agent’ (1 min 07secs = £1.10), I quickly made my way past the first phone angel and on to her ‘supervisor’. I was completely stonewalled by someone who just couldn’t deviate from what he was saying to me. I asked to speak to someone else. That wasn’t possible (3mins 47secs = £2.08). They got the desired response from me. I withdrew the big guns and hung up, frustrated and deflated (£5.91 on the phone!).
They’d already had nearly a tenth of what they were asking my mother for and clearly she was going to have to pay her fine.
Now what law was broken here? Who was inconvenienced? Who couldn’t wiggle their car into that empty car park whilst my maverick mother flagrantly flouted the rules?
Should common sense not prevail in all cases? Clearly not. Who gives these people the power to make up rules which financially affect us in our daily grind. What if the car park had been full but for two spaces next to each other and the two people adjacent had parked over their lines? Would my mum have to go and find another Mothercare for fear of crossing the hallowed line?
Just to recap – old lady (no offence mum) takes toddler to Mothercare on hot day and uses common sense to protect child’s welfare. Is this really punishable by a £60 fine?
I think not!
Oliver Dempsey, S10