By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
England's biggest shake-up in the parking laws in years is aimed at making dodgy tickets a thing of the past. So will it?
Few issues anger people as much as parking.
First there's the stress of finding a space, then the ordeal of squeezing a car into it and finally scrambling for the correct loose change, if the meter is in working order.
1: Offending drivers can be caught by CCTV on busy routes
2: Parking on a yellow line is 'higher' offence with increased penalty (see full list below)
3: Ticket does not have to go on windscreen, but can be issued by post if motorist drives away
4: Clamping only for persistent offenders
5: Parking attendants become civil enforcement officers
Plus: no more targets for profits or tickets, more powers for parking adjudicators and clearer guidance on how to appeal
Return to the car five minutes late - through no fault of your own - and there's a £100 fine nestled behind a windscreen wiper.
With 3.4 million tickets issued in England last year, there are probably a few motorists who get palpitations just reading about this familiar scenario. For you, there's some good news.
From Monday, the fine for overstaying a meter and other "minor" offences is falling. The bad news is that fines for offences deemed more serious will increase.
The Traffic Management Act 2004 is, the government says, an attempt to make parking enforcement fairer in England.
Even MPs have acknowledged it's a mess - in 2006 the Commons transport committee described parking enforcement as inconsistent and confused.
And partly in response to that, the act introduces two levels of fines, one for serious offences like parking on a double yellow line, and a lower one for minor infringements.
Other measures include the expansion of CCTV use on very busy routes where it is impractical or too dangerous for parking attendants - from Monday they are "civil enforcement officers" - to operate.
And fines will be sent to motorists who manage to drive away before a ticket is stuck to their vehicle - closing an existing loophole in law.
HOW WILL FINES CHANGE?
Outside London, two bands
Band 1 - Higher charge: £70, Lower charge: £50 (previously £60 for all offences)
Band 2 - Higher charge: £60, Lower charge: £40 (previously £50 for all)
In London, there's no change
Band A: Higher charge: £120, Lower charge: £80 (previously £100)
Band B: Higher charge: £100, Lower charge: £60 (previously £80)
Band C: Higher charge: £80, Lower charge: £40 (previously £60)
The latest figures suggest only 1% of penalties issued are challenged, yet more than half of appeals are successful.
And Transport Minister Rosie Winterton says the new changes are necessary to address concerns among motorists that they are unfairly penalised.
"The government has been quite clear that parking enforcement must be fair, clear, consistent and based on robust evidence - we want to increase public confidence in parking."
The new framework tells councils they should not use parking enforcement to make money and should not set ticket-issuing targets.
But Neil Herron, who campaigns on behalf of drivers who have received erroneous tickets, says the plea will fall on deaf ears and the whole system needs to be the subject of a public inquiry.
Some councils are over-zealous
"There are going to be major consequences because of this. In six months time they will realise they've created pandemonium and chaos, and it will alienate the motoring public.
"We're not advocating parking anarchy but proper policing and transparency. It has to be fair, legal and must not be incentivized."
He's particularly concerned about "ghost tickets" issued by post so the first a driver hears about the offence is weeks later at home.
Parking adjudicators depend on a revenue stream from tickets so are not impartial, and many of the signs are unlawful, he says. Less than one percent of councils do everything correctly and parking on a yellow line can earn a bigger fine than shoplifting.
"So the system is grossly unfair, it's lawless, it's out of control and needs to be dealt with in the strongest terms.
"We need a fair, independent inquiry into the adjudication service and the behaviour of local authorities."
In response to fears that tickets will be issued by wardens some distance away, a spokesman for the Department for Transport says the issuing officer must be next to the vehicle, because the evidence must include a registration number and should include the tax disc number and expiry date, plus photos where possible.
WHY ARE COUNCILS IN CHARGE?
1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act made parking offences civil, not criminal, acts
More than 200 councils have followed it, but some still use the old criminal system
In those areas tickets are still issued by police
Failure to pay the fine means a summons to magistrates' court
There are some encouraging changes in the shake-up, says Paul Watters of the AA, such as clamping being limited to persistent offenders and an extended period to pay a discounted fine.
He also applauds the way parking adjudicators are being empowered to throw cases back to councils. Previously, they could award a motorist victory due to an illegal sign but could not compel councils to do anything about it.
"The only downside [of the new laws] is that it adds to the complexity for local authorities, particularly it allows more room for errors to be made so we'll have to make sure they put the right offence code on the ticket.
"And we have estimated that about 75% of offences will probably be in the higher regime, therefore it is quite likely that overall revenue from fines will increase."
Parking is such a big issue in the UK because on a crowded island with old city streets, there are 30 million cars. And rising.
It's also a politically-charged issue, he says, because local authorities are in charge and some treat a parking offence like the driver has robbed a million pounds.
"For many people, getting a parking ticket is not a deliberate act, it's a simple mistake and in a complicated life, people do make mistakes.
"That's why they get so incensed, although sometimes they do take liberties beyond the norm."
HOW ONE COUNCIL CHANGED
Manchester City Council introduced motorist-friendly policies two years ago
Wardens were told to be flexible in issuing tickets, allowing a few minutes' leeway
A call centre looked at disputes and applied benefit of doubt
'Moovit' scheme: A button on delivery vans for wardens to press and move them on, rather than book them
So what's the answer? The UK could learn from historical cities in Europe like Bruges, says Mr Watters, which use underground car parking to take the pressure off the streets. It's expensive but pragmatic.
Or a more innovative approach could mean residents and businesses share parking spaces, he says, because they use the space at different times.
Below is a selection of your comments.
This is an opportunity lost - instead of having a fair and open review, we have more complexity, and worse of all - the ability for councils (or their subcontracted tax collectors aka wardens) to impose tickets secretly. By being able to post parking tickets, the driver has no warning of a supposed infringement, so has no opportunity to take photos of his/her own to be offered in defence. Yet another stealth tax on the motorist by nu labour...
"For many people, getting a parking ticket is not a deliberate act, it's a simple mistake " Paul Watters, AA. I doubt it very much! It's laziness. Parking in disabled bays and double yellow lines deserves a ticket, and those councils still pursuing police enforcement I applaud.
Steven Innes, Mortimer
Unfair, unreasonable, inconsistent, inflexible. These people make a good day bad.
Jaimie Gramston, London
Why is "the fact that fines for offences deemed more serious will increase" deemed "bad news". We rarely get told the same for punishments relating to burglary or violent crime. Why is it that offences related to traffic are only considered as "half-crimes" by the media? Cars are a much bigger killer in this country than murderers and so on, and I'm sure many of these deaths could be prevented if people respected. I understand that the system's unfair but that doesn't mean the media should have a bias against any law enforcement in this area.
Liam, Oxford, UK
In Oldham they are introducing a Smart car with an adpated camera. This car will drive around the town taking footage of parking offenders and any offences will be processed through the system with video evidence to back them up. Seems to be another 'big brother' step forward for the Council and the end of the traditional Traffic Wardens role. Also smacks of another scheme by most councils to make up money they've 'lost' in the latest Council Tax bills.
Keith Alexander, Oldham UK
To everyone outside of London - welcome to a world where you're even ticketed if you stop to read the restrictions on the sign.
We all need to take responsibility and only use the car when absolutely essential. We don't have a god given right to be able to drive and park wherever and whenever we want. We share this world with others and we should use other form of transport if possible to help reduce the problem.
Though there are many occasions where parking fines are unjustified due to over-zealous parking attendants, to claim that being "five minutes late - through no fault of your own" is not a scenario worthy of a ticket is, at the very least, disingenuous. The cause of people who have been genuinely wronged is not helped by lumping them in with people who have infringed upon the rules.
Ian C, Kent
Personally, I'm getting sick and tired of people parking their vehicles all over the footpath, and on double yellow lines. people know the rules, but choose to break them. It's time to come down hard on them!
Having spent a lot of time in Spain where underground parking is the normal thing at least in large cities, I can vouch for its effectiveness. Large shopping malls have them and they are free to use if you are shopping or you can often pay a small charge to use them as an ordinary car park. If councils want us to believe that they are not just using motorists as a cash cow then why don't they try a "three strikes" scheme? Get three warnings and you are hit with a £100 fine. It would serve to warn those who make genuine mistakes, catch and penalise those who routinely flout the rules and also not penalise normal people for the confusing and useless signs on many roads.
Phil, Oxford, UK
The government should be made aware that every parking ticket reduces their returns at the next general election. Coming soon, payback time at a polling station near you!
Phil, Warrington England