By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News Magazine
Most of us think of parking in terms of endless double yellows, fines and high charges, but at this time of year the parking industry likes to celebrate with a ceremony that echoes the Oscars. It's a multi-billion pound industry in the UK, but how did it get so big?
For those involved, it's a chance to trumpet the talents of those working in the parking business, with categories ranging from Best New Car Park, to Parking Person of the Year and Parking in the Community.
"It's a moment for a sector which often gets a bad press
to almost have a moment of reward and recognise the work that goes on," says Mark Moran, who is managing editor of Parking Review, the magazine which organises the British Parking Awards.
The first UK parking meter was installed in London in 1958
The event, which is hosted by the comedian Jon Culshaw at a five-star hotel in central London, is in its ninth year.
For the uninitiated it might seem like a "bit of an odd thing to take place", says Patrick Troy, the chief executive of the British Parking Association (BPA), who argues it is important in changing negative perceptions of parking.
"One of the criticisms of the parking sector is that it isn't as customer-friendly or approachable as it should be," he says.
The growth of the British Parking Association indicates how the parking industry has changed. It is now a multi-billion pound industry, employing more than 60,000 people in the UK. The BPA, which started out in the 1960s, had 70 members at its inception. Today the organisation has grown tenfold, with nearly 700, half of which are local authorities.
A major landmark in the way parking was managed came in the 1990s, with the arrival on the High Street of an army of uniformed, notebook-wielding parking attendants, or "civil enforcement officers". Their presence across the UK has been the source of much debate, anger and, in some cases, rage.
The introduction of a new kind of parking regime followed the introduction of the Road Traffic Act 1991, which gave local councils the powers to enforce parking regulations themselves, where it had previously been the responsibility of the police and the courts. Now, CCTV cameras and number plate recognition are also used to catch people who have flouted parking rules.
Parking by numbers
£1.3bn - Parking revenue raised by councils in England
66,000 - People employed in the UK parking industry
26,000 - Car parks in the UK
Some argue that local councils are increasingly using parking tickets to raise money rather than manage the flow of traffic.
It's a charge levelled by Barrie Segal, who runs the AppealNow website, which helps people challenge penalty notices. Mr Segal argues that the system is now a "major money-spinner", and that its "commercialisation" has increased the chance of someone being issued a ticket unfairly.
English councils raised £1.3bn in the past year from parking tickets and fines, according to figures compiled by transport economist John Siraut.
London is the region that has generated the most income - the amount of money made per car for on-street parking in the region is £180, compared with £6.82 in the East Midlands.
A reason given for the high levels in London is not just the relatively high price of car parking in the city, but also the widespread use of parking permits to manage demand. Mr Siraut, who crunches the car parking statistics every year, says while some councils use parking revenue to offset council tax bills, in other cases they are failing to run a cost-effective operation and are losing money.
Park at my house
As well as councils, there is a large private industry based around car parks. Last week an exhibition held at London's Earls Court for the parking business was attended by more than 2,000 people, including bailiffs, machinery suppliers, IT specialists and lighting technicians.
As the industry around parking has grown, so has the need for parking spaces. The BPA estimates that there are around 26,000 car parks in the UK, excluding on-street parking, but with the numbers of motorists increasing, demand is far exceeding supply.
For Anthony Eskinazi, it provided an opportunity. Four years ago he set up his own parking business, spotting the huge demand for city centre spaces.
His website, parkatmyhouse.co.uk allows people to rent out their empty driveways or parking spaces. Popular locations include driveways near football stadiums and train stations.
Mr Eskinazi says as many as 10,000 people are signed up to the service, with members making up to £100 a month for a space near a train station, or £15 for a space near a football stadium for the duration of a match.
More than £1.3bn is raised through parking fines
It's an ingenious idea - turning empty space into immediate profit. Brian Gregory, from the Association of British Drivers, says he's noticed a lack of High Street parking in recent years, which he attributes to the introduction of planning laws.
The guidance says that any parking that is provided should also promote sustainable, environmentally friendly transport choices. It also calls for the introduction, where appropriate, of controls for on-street parking, and doesn't require property developers to create a set number of parking spaces to match the number of new flats built.
"If the aim of parking is to make roads flow more freely and to make them safer then it's a dismal failure," argues Gregory.
One previous recipient of a British Parking Award, Phil Taylor from Tewkesbury Council, disagrees with that notion.
"No amount of PR will change people's perceptions of traffic enforcement but it's a necessary control mechanism and it's widely recognised that efficient car parking enforcement has contributed to a better and easier ability to park and do business".
But, for Mr Gregory, the regulations have meant, "the ability to just park up" in a city centre has disappeared. It has, he says, led to the frustrating scenario where people spend hours circling round town centres looking for a space, a practice he says accounts for a third of all city centre traffic.
Below is a selection of your comments.
The reality is that parking is in short supply. People seem to forget that they want to park somewhere safe, half decent and convenient and like anything else that is a service which has to be paid for. Sadly there are some rogue operators out there but the British Parking Association has a programme awarding AOS status to decent operators. Well-run carpark companies should not be tarnished with the same brush as rogue operators and heavy-handed councils who hand out too many tickets. As for people who think it is a cash cow, imagine a free hospital car park. Commuters would park there all day for nothing with no regard for the fact that they are taking up spaces required by visitors and staff. Additionally, blue badge holders need spaces to be enforced as abuse is rife. Parking is a public service like buses and trains. Good car parks with extra services are like shops - you can chose whether you go in there or not. So frankly those who complain that it's a cash cow and they are the victims are probably the same people who moan about litter on the streets of the UK yet drop chewing gum and cigarette butts on the floor themselves.
Jimmy Cocktail, London, UK
I work almost next to the parking attendant offices and so I end up with encountering more than my fair share of them. In the past two years I have had five parking tickets, all issued unfairly and successfully contested. I have raised the issue claiming that the council is using a scattergun approach to issue as many as tickets as possible therefore increasing the number of payments from people who just don't want the hassle of fighting it or don't realise they haven't actually done anything wrong. All I get back is a generic letter stating the aims of the parking enforcement are to ease the flow of traffic and that where a breach is suspected then a ticket will be issued. Correctly implemented parking enforcement that truly eases the pressure on the roads and makes more spaces available can only be a good thing but it seems from my experience that all its used for is revenue. To make matters worse, the council vehicles have passes so they can use parking spaces for as long as they need which inevitably ends up with many scarce spaces around here being taken up by the people who are meant to be freeing them up...
Anthony Robinson, Sheffield UK
What annoys me generally about parking in car-parks is that you are charged, but the companies absolve themselves of any responsibilities. If your car is damaged or stolen, then "it's not our fault". Hang on a minute - if you offer somewhere to park, and charge for it, then there should be some responsibility for keeping the area safe and secure.
Dr Dave, Cambridge, New Zealand
A lot of people complain about parking restrictions and having to pay to park. Why not, for two days, allow unfettered parking on all public roads (excluding motorways and the like) and at no cost? We will see then how important planned parking arrangements actually are and contribute to providing usable roads.
North Tyneside is having to put up fake shop fronts because the town centres are dead. I would not mind betting that in-town parking is tricky and expensive, but the out-of-town retail parks have loads of free spaces. Last year we visited Montpellier, which had lots of park-and-ride parking with modern trams into the centre every 10 minutes. But that requires investment, and forward-planning, which it seems we are not very good at in the UK any more.
Lorna, Vesoul, France
I would like to se a seven-day "park wherever you like for as long as you like for free" initiative. I am sure the first people to complain about the resulting traffic chaos due to blocked side roads (in particular), and the impossibility of finding parking spaces because selfish drivers have parked all day instead of an hour or so, will be just those motorists who are unable to accept that parking restrictions are there for their benefit, not just as a fund raising exercise for councils. If you don't want to pay parking fines, don't park where you shouldn't.
Chris, Gravesend, Kent
I was a parking attendant once and got sacked because I didn't give out enough tickets. I wanted to keep the traffic moving and if someone was coming back to their car to move it why give them a ticket? I am now a policeman and love keeping our roads clear of bad motorists.
Ricky , London
At the end of the day, while it might be a money making scheme, it is only affecting those that do park where they shouldn't be. If (big if in some cases) the rules are clear, and so long as we don't get civil enforcement officers camping by cars where a ticket is about to expire waiting to issue a ticket, it's fair game.
Maybe its a Nottingham thing but I'm sick of seeing drivers pull up on double yellows, put their hazards on then use a cash machine, buy a paper or unload their boot. It means the rest of us have to sit there till they're ready to move on or drive around them on the wrong side of the road. A bit MORE enforcement of double yellow lines would be appreciated here.
When I go to a new town, I always try to work out the location of free on-street parking a short distance from the town centre because 1) I deeply resent having to pay in order to park, and 2) I have no desire to get caught up in town-centre traffic and queues to get in and out of a multi-storey car park. There needs to be more short-term FREE parking in town centres to allow chance to get to a bank or one specific shop. If only all towns were like the one near me where you get a hour's free parking in all the car-parks and only have to pay if you stay longer than this.
My employer regularly sends out a questionnaire about commuting habits ending in the question: "Is there anything else we can do to dissuade you from using your car?" to which I usually reply: "No, thank you. Charge me whatever you like but I do need to use my car."
I can't use public transport due to disability. I recently spent an hour driving around a hospital car park looking for somewhere to park (for which there would be a hefty charge). I never did find anywhere and couldn't make my appointment at an obvious cost to the NHS. I may have saved a parking fee but there was a cost to me in petrol and anxiety and a cost to the environment, around a hospital no less, from the pollution my car emitted.
Catherine, Surbiton, Surrey
I went into Chesterfield in an evening and was amazed to find that they charge for parking at all times. When I go to Sheffield there is no charge for parking in the evening.
John, Chesterfield, England
Increase the penalty to £500, that might get them to think a little harder before they park where they shouldn't I have been driving over 40 years, and have never parked where I shouldn't, taint hard to do.
Why are disabled badge holders allowed to park on double yellows? If it's dangerous for me then it must be even more so for them... also too many able bodied using illegal badges.
D Hirst, Barnsley
A few years I was questioning the head of parking enforcement in a formal hearing. One of the things she revealed was that traffic wardens have a daily and weekly quota for tickets. If they fail to meet their quota they can have their pay cut and eventually lose their job. Parking tickets are totally about local councils making more money. There is one 100% guaranteed way to avoid parking tickets and charges to park that is available to the vast majority of people who work in or visit town and city centres. Use public transport.
Stephen Booth, Birmingham, UK
I was issued with a parking ticket because on returning to my car partway through a day, the paid-for-parking receipt/ticket was blown upside down when I closed the car door. You could still read it, but only from an angle. However some jobsworth still thought I deserved a ticket, despite having paid properly and parked appropriately in the marked bay. This kind of thing is such a waste of resources - they should concentrate on the people who think putting their hazards on is a get-out-of-jail-free pass to park anywhere they like.
I have recently started driving and have found that there are very few spaces around my college to park. Considering the amount of students at my college, the college next to it and the school in between I find it hard to believe how few spaces there are. There are about 15 spaces around the back of the college and all the rest you have to pay for. I'm not paying to park outside somewhere that i have to be. I'm a student and broke anyway.
Tippy, Eastleigh, Southampton
I wonder how many people who complain about town centre parking could use public transport instead of their own cars.
Christine Thabet, Middlesbrough
I'm always amazed when I go to France that, whether you're in a tiny village or the centre of a major city, there is always free public parking available. Contrast with the Imperial War Museum in Manchester - "free" entry, but £4 to park.
"The guidance says that any parking which is provided should also promote sustainable, environmentally friendly transport choices." So driving around for ages producing copious amounts of UNNECESSARY pollution meets the above guidelines? I don't think so no matter what way you look at it. Also consider the safety implications of all those unnecessary motoring miles, for pedestrians and air-pollution. It's a cash-cow that will be recognized on election day.
Coconut, Guildford UK