Patrick Troy, chief executive of the British Parking Association, looks at how the parking industry could be made fairer through improved parking management and by putting the customer at the heart of decision-making
There are some excellent examples of great practice in the parking industry across the country, and our challenge lies in joining all of these up, sharing knowledge and balancing the needs of a commercial industry with the need to serve the UK’s millions of motorists.
The parking industry is maturing. There are still some companies out there that live up to the old ‘cowboy operator’ moniker (not our members I might add), and by understanding the needs of customers we can change that.
As a member organisation that represents enforcement operators, car park owners and managers, local authorities and vehicle immobilisation (clamping) firms, we know it is the customer that binds us all together, but no one size fits all. That’s where our challenge lies.
The latest ‘gap’ in parking control has been where private land is concerned – where there is no formal legislation. Offices, supermarkets, shopping centres, leisure operations – in fact, any type of facility with a high footfall – are now more than likely to have some sort of parking control or enforcement, or will be thinking about introducing such measures. But who’s making sure the customer is being looked after?
The need for enforcement is simple – to ensure that those who have the genuine need to park there can, and will be safe when doing so. Uncontrolled car parks can often become unofficial ‘park and rides’, and enforcement can help with the problem.
To make sure that car parks are being managed in an efficient, safe and professional manner, the British Parking Association introduced the Approved Operator Scheme (AOS) – a ‘badge’ of quality – in October 2007 to provide a controlled and professional way to regulate the UK’s parking facilities.
Backed by a Code of Practice, with which our members must abide, it sets out best practice for these types of operations, recommending appropriate levels of signage, pricing and staffing, as well as advising on administrative areas. We are currently in the process of reviewing the Code, and looking to close another gap. We are currently undertaking a consultation on a newly revised Code of Practice which is due to be introduced later this year.
To ensure AOS members meet the high standards of the Scheme, operators undergo a rigorous compliance audit and, once passed, they can then apply for electronic access to DVLA data. Compliance with the Code is continually monitored, to ensure not only maintenance but improvement of the level of the member’s service through spot checks carried out by members of our team. The revised Code will further improve the standards expected from our members to drive the industry forward.
The Scheme is undoubtedly enhanced by the ability to access data electronically from the DVLA and we continue to work in partnership with them to ensure that we move towards restricting access to the database further. Ideally, in the future we would like all private car parking companies to become members of an ATA and abide by a Code of Practice before they are provided with any form of access to the information.
We welcome any further opportunities to regulate the industry and discourage ‘cowboy’ operators who continue their illegitimate practices to the detriment of the customer. As motorists continue to seek improved professional services, we will continue to ensure their needs are met in order to drive the standards of the parking industry in the right direction.
For example, a contentious issue in the industry is pricing, particularly for vehicle immobilisation (clamping). Under our newly revised code clamping fees must be reasonable, not excessive, and must be justifiable by the operator.
The future of parking
So what’s in the future? We have worked hard to raise standards and drive out the cowboys and we need to work even harder to improve the reputation of parking control. The facts are simple. There are approximately 25 million cars in circulation and, at any one time, about 24 million of them are parked somewhere. That’s a lot of space required simply for parking. So, we must apply a professional approach to deciding where a car can be left, for how long and on whose land. It’s not simple to do this, but we are confident that the revised Code of Practice for the AOS will continue to meet the right standards for motorists.
In anything we do, the customer must be the focus. Parking is a service industry which must be led by their demands, along with quality, integrity and professionalism – which is what we aim to offer through Approved Operators.
The AOS is a developing scheme which is driven by client demand. As motorists seek improved services, we will continue to work with them to ensure their needs are met in order to drive the standards of the parking industry in the right direction. We are not there yet but we are undoubtedly on the right track. The parking profession is driving forward.
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