Parking Services

Watch out on Greenford Road

I have been highlighting how out of step the Otter Road yellow box junction is on Greenford Road but further digging around shows that it is not just this junction but the whole of Greenford Road which is a bit of a hazard to motorists, at least to their pockets. In August 15% of all parking tickets in the Borough were given out on Greenford Road.

Detailed analysis of the statistics shows that in a typical month about 2,000 parking tickets (Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs)) are issued on Greenford Road out of roughly 16,000 per month issued across the Borough. The annual value of these tickets is £1.5 million. 98% of these tickets are issued automatically by CCTV, according to Stephen Babcock, distracted driving attorney. Most of the tickets are given out for stopping on the Greenford Road/Otter Road yellow box junction, driving in the bus lanes and stopping on loading bays and the taxi rank. The Greenford Road/Otter Road yellow box junction on its own is worth at least £500K a year to the Council.

It is important that drivers follow the Highway Code and that residents consider their neighbours when parking. That said, it does look like Ealing Council is too reliant on giving out parking tickets on Greenford Road. More work needs to be done to improve signing and to help people avoid tickets. The Council’s objective should be compliance not income.

Parking Services

Parking danger zones – August

Since April the council has been publishing information monthly on where it is giving out tickets. This is something I started off when I was in charge and I have persuaded them to resume this habit after a break caused by a re-organisation of the council’s website apparently.

The council recently published the August data, see here.

I have been keeping a track of those road features/offences that generate more than 200 tickets per month, see below.

It is good to see that only 4 sites crossed the 200 threshold in September but these four sites alone generated 13.6% of all tickets in the borough. Unfortunately the Otter Road yellow box junction on Greenford Road is still top of the table for the fifth month running. 4.9% of all the borough’s tickets were written on this one junction this month. This one junction is worth something like £500K to the council every year. This is disproportionate.

Parking Services

Happy New Year from your council

Residents in CPZs today see their parking charges going up by multiples. The prices have not changed for five years due to a manifesto pledge made by the last Conservative administration to leave them unchanged. The changes are so eye watering that it is the equivalent of a 1.9% rise in council tax but instead of the whole borough paying from 1st April it is a small number of residents of CPZs paying from 1st January.

The council have produced this handy ready reckoner, follow link.

Although the ready reckoner is on the whole quite transparent it does tell a couple of porkies in the area of CPZ charges. The tables below shows the kind of rises being imposed by the council.

It is notable that two of the smallest rises of 20% apply to the service vouchers widely abused by council staff around Perceval House and to Springbridge Road car park where council staff who need to drive for work get permits issued and might incur taxable benefits in kind. In November and December there were roughly 100 council staff and contractors staff abusing the service vouchers in CPZ zone W every day.

Parking Services

Parking tickets halve under Tories

Tonight the Evening Standard is covering the story of the release by London Councils of figures for parking tickets across London showing that overall parking tickets are down 11% in a year and 22% in two years. The change in Ealing has been even more dramatic.

I was in charge of Parking Services, the people who give out tickets, for two years until May and I am proud to say that I presided over a massive reduction in the number of tickets given out by the Borough. In their last year in power Labour gave out 383,667 parking tickets. Under the Tories this number fell to 194,907 last year, a drop of 49%, or almost half. The current Labour portfolio holder for parking is Bassam Mahfouz. He has spent a lot of time over the last four years trying to make black white. We will keep an eye on these numbers and see if he can keep a similarly tight lid on the parking people.

For details see London Councils press release here.

Parking Services

All change (again) for our traffic wardens

We had a long, long cabinet meeting last night – over three and half hours. The meeting was dominated by discussion of whether or not we should outsource our Civil Enforcement Officers, these are the people that we used to call traffic wardens. See paper here.

About 30 of these staff turned up to hear what was going on. Previously they had been protesting outside the town hall chanting “In-house, in-house”. I went to talk to them outside before the meeting but it was hard to find actual CEOs amongst the union reps, Socialist Worker sellers and other hangers-on.

Frankly these staff have had every right to feel neglected over the last few years and we all understand why they would like to stay where they are for the time being. When the Conservatives took over in 2006 the parking contractor which employed them was called Vinci and the nature of the contract they had struck with the previous administration, which incentivised them to give out more tickets, caused us to review this contract and award it to Apcoa. Since then the council has given out about 2/3rds of the tickets it used to.

Apcoa pulled out of this business at very short notice at the end of 2008 leaving us in a bit of a bind and we bought these staff in-house temporarily. We have now come to the end of an exhaustive process of evaluating potential providers of this style of service and last night we decided to go with the market leader NSL. It is very understandable that the staff do not like the prospect of working for the fourth employer in four years and losing the possibility of having their terms and conditions harmonised with those of other council employers which would mean that ultimately they had to work fewer hours to earn the same income.

Unison rep Adam Smith (unfortunate name for a man of the left!) spoke very well on behalf of the CEOs who would have liked the service to remain in house. He talked about how this is “not a broken service”. I agree with him and I, and the rest of the cross party parking specialist scrutiny panel, agreed with him in spring 2008 when the CEOs were being managed by Apcoa. The panel’s report, see here, made 17 recommendations to cabinet as to how to improve the parking service but not one of them concerned CEOs. Our parking service still has a way to go before we can say we have put it right but for some time now the main focus of improvement has not been the people on the streets. It is in the back office, where we do the admin and consider appeals, where there is still work to be done.

Outsourcing the CEOs lets us keep focussed on the tasks that still need to be done. This is a good deal for the council as it ensures that this task is undertaken by a large and capable contractor and it is a good deal for staff who will be working for a market leading company that will give them good opportunities for training and progression which we can’t at the council.

Parking Services

Get out of jail free card


I have just been catching up with some casework (that is what councillors call respondoing to your letters). I have had to write to a lady who is unhappy to have got a parking ticket when transporting her mother and her Blue Badge. She got a ticket for parking in a loading bay and feels that the council has made a mistake.

The Blue Badge is not a parking “get out of jail free card”. There are many places where you can’t park even with a Blue Badge. If you are transporting a friend or relative it is as well to know the rules. They are not in the Highway Code and most “civillians” won’t know them. But, everyone who gets a Blue Badge is issued with a booklet called “The Blue Badge Scheme: rights and responsibilities in England”. Click on the title to follow link.

If your grandma wants a ride make sure you read the book or it might be expensive.

Customer Services Parking Services

Customer services – early morning rush

I had half an hour between meetings this morning so I took the opportunity to do a quick spot check on customer services.

It was 9:05 am by my watch when I arrived and it was a bit daunting at first as there were 20 plus people queuing out of the door to get past the meeters and greeters. They had only just openend the doors and in fact it was all very orderly with a security guy directing people to the three meeters and greeters. It took only three minutes to get past them and get a ticket in my hand at 9.08 am.

Once inside all was calm and ordered with about 40 people waiting to be seen and not many behind me – all the early birds were trying to get their worms. There were 18 people waiting for housing benefits enquiries and 14 people waiting for parking of which 13 wanted permits. Two cash office windows were open with two people being served so no queue there.

It took 26 minutes to get to the front of the parking queue. This is too long. If I thought it took 26 minutes all day I would be worried but I think this was a function of the early morning rush which I had managed to get on the end of. I haven’t had this problem when I have tried this later in the day. There were four staff dealing with parking matters. I will look into how we might improve things first thing. In the meantime if you have any stories to share, good or bad, please do.

Ealing and Northfield Parking Services

Cars, cars everywhere …

One of my colleagues, Councillor Colm Costello, has obtained the following numbers from the Department of Transport regarding the number of licensed vehicles in Ealing. You can see that the number of vehicles on our roads has increased 15% in ten years from 1997 to 2007.

Coincidentally the following figures from our residents’ survey have just been published in Around Ealing:

It is not hard to see the relationship between Colm’s figures and the fourth and fifth concerns of Ealing residents. It is a case of my car is your problem and vice versa.

Interestingly our neighbours Richmond today announced that they would consult on charging more polluting vehicles 25% more in their car parks and less polluting ones 25% less. It sounds like a fiendishly complicated scheme where to just get the standstill price you have to pay £2.50 to log onto a website. Ealing seems to be rather more car friendly – this month you can park in our car parks for free at the weekends.

I am sure that we are right to try to help out our local businesses in the short term. In the long term we need to have a debate about where we go with cars in Ealing. The last administration used the planning system to try to force people out of their cars. CPZs make as many people unhappy as happy. I would be interested to hear your views.

Parking Services

Ealing Times goes too far

Yesterday the Ealing Times really went over the top with their front page headline: “Ealing Council could be investigated by police for fraud“. Ealing Times is about to be closed down by their owners and will not be published after Christmas so maybe journalist Alex Hayes just doesn’t care anymore.

Ealing Council has always believed its yellow box junctions across T junctions to be legal and that is the legal advice we have had every time we asked the question. Legal matters are not always black and white whatever journalists and opposition councillors like to make out.

When we started losing some PATAS appeals on these junctions we asked ourselves how we should resolve it as PATAS cannot make general judgements – it can only rule on individual cases. We might have decided to go to judicial review. This would have been expensive and we do not think that going to law at this level is what council tax payers want us to spend their money on. We decided to get the opinion of the Department for Transport (DfT). This request was made “without prejudice”. In other words we have always maintained and still maintain that these junctions are legal.

Once the DfT had disagreed with us we felt that as these box junctions were controversial we should remove them. We also felt that we should refund those fined up from when we first heard from the DfT that it disagreed with our own legal advice. We could easily have taken the view that these were always legal so we would not refund anyone. We chose what we thought was a fair and reasonable position.

To illustrate how grey these issues are let me quote from a PATAS case (No. 2080453909). The adjudicator, Anthony Engel, said on 4th September 2008 of a case concerning the South Road/Cambridge Road junction:

I, myself, am inclined to the view that a local authority is entitled to use a Box conforming with Diagram 1043 at a T-junction (ie a full width box junction) – as otherwise, the local authority is unable to prevent traffic stopping on the far side of a T-junction and it seems to be that a local authority ought to have the power to do so.

However, I am not so firm in my view that I am prepared to depart from the decisions made by the Chief Adjudicator (and other Adjudicators).

Accordingly, after some hesitation, I follow the decision referred to and I allow this appeal.

So it seems that Engel agreed with our own legal advice but found against the council in any case. You might say: “So what?”, but Engel didn’t have to make this point as late as this September. He could have kept quiet knowing how controversial this case has already become, but clearly he felt there was justice in our case which should be acknowledged. This case is not black and white and both the Ealing Times and Cllr Mahfouz are simply wrong to suggest that it is.

Parking Services

Yellow boxes at T-junctions

Today I issued the following statement on yellow box junctions:

On behalf of the Council I would like to say sorry and offer our unreserved apologies.

We will be refunding everyone ticketed at the affected yellow box junctions since 20 June.

The decision was made after an email sent by the Department for Transport on 20 June, was brought to my attention today.

At the beginning of November we immediately suspended the junctions following advice from the Department for Transport. I believed that this was the first time the Council had been given this advice or the decision to stop enforcing them would have taken in June.

I am furious that this email was never brought to my attention and I have ordered an immediate investigation on how this could have happened.

The Council is putting in place arrangements to refund the money.

The six box junctions affected are double width yellow boxes at T-Junctions:

– South Road junction St Joseph’s Drive, Southall

– South Road junction Cambridge Road, Southall

– South Road junction Hamilton Road, Southall

– High Street junction Avenue Road, Southall

– Uxbridge Road junction Lower Boston Road, Hanwell

– The Broadway junction The Mall, Ealing

The local papers have taken up the story here and here.

I will not be commenting further until I have seen the results of the investigation that I initiated today.