Patrick Troy, the new chief executive of the British Parking Association, shares his views of the industry and its association
In taking over as chief executive of the British Parking Association (BPA) in December last year, my first drive was to spread the best practice bug. There are pockets, some pretty large, of great practice in the industry, but my challenge lies in joining all of these up, sharing knowledge, and balancing the needs of a commercial industry with the UK’s millions of motorists. Not an easy job, but one I’m enjoying so far, and one that gives me plenty of scope to improve things further.
The parking industry is maturing. Yes, there are still some companies out there that live up to the old ‘cowboy operator’ moniker (not our members I might add), and by working together we can change that. There are already many less than, say, five years ago, thanks to some great initiatives. The most encouraging thing is, as well as the motorists and those who represent them, that the loudest voice shouting for change is the industry itself.
As a member organisation that represents enforcement operators, car park owners and managers, local authorities and vehicle immobilisation (clamping) firms, I’ve had my work cut out getting around and hearing what’s what. One thing is clear – there is a need for change, but there’s no one size fits all. That’s where our challenge lies.
Addressing the problems
When we, as an industry, and by working with government and other agencies, ‘fix’ one thing – like ‘over zealous’ ticketing for example – something else pops up as the controversial issue of the day, like ticketing or clamping on private land. Surely and steadily we have been innovating to address all of these problems – and all with the support of the industry and those who operate within it.
In the past three years we have promoted Park Mark® - a Safer Parking Scheme in association with the Association of Chief Police Officers, to improve the safety and comfort level in car parks. This in itself is driving crime down in parking facilities rapidly.
We have launched a standard Model Contract for the relationship between local authorities and their enforcement contractors. It encourages best practice – all good news for the motorist, and the civil enforcement officers who are at the coal face. Last year new parking guidelines were launched by government, legislating for some of the things we were encouraging and promoting – that’s a giant step forward.
The latest ‘gap’ in parking control has been where private land is concerned – where there is no formal legislation. Whether parking in the car park of a major supermarket, a hospital, or a tourist attraction, there is more than likely some sort of enforcement activity going on 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 solve the problem. Our Code of Practice, with which all our members must abide, 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 with a good bit of work, co-operation with the industry, and a fair wind – perhaps we can close another gap.
Other issues are coming to the fore. These mainly relate to the balance between a motorist’s ‘right’ to park, and the provision of parking facilities at public sector buildings, such as hospitals. We’re working on that one now.
So what’s in the future? While we have worked hard to raise standards and drive out the cowboys, we need to work even harder to improve the reputation of parking control. The facts are simple. We live on a small island. 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.
Cars take up space – we can’t just leave them anywhere. So, the fairest way to decide where a car can be left, for how long, and on whose land must be subject to some sort of control. Simple? Not likely.
With 30 years’ experience in the public sector, latterly with Transport for London, I’m set for the challenge. As head of Parking Services at the London Borough of Sutton for eight years, I set up the area’s decriminalised parking enforcement regime, so I know the issues, emotions and sensitivities involved. A fresh look at the key issues is invigorating, and I’m working closely with the BPA team to identify other areas where we may be of assistance.
In anything we do, the motorist must be the focus. Parking is a service industry, which must be led by the demand of its customers. The BPA has already established links with key stakeholders, including the motorist, and I’m looking forward to continuing these.