Let's rein in the Enforcers

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THE figures say it all. This year Central Parking System will make £2.6 million from ticketing thousands of motorists and Edinburgh City Council will rake in £4m from the tickets issued by the company’s Enforcers.

Parking is big business and the number of tickets issued in the city is increasing. But so are complaints of over-zealous ticketing by the new parking attendants, the Enforcers.

Over the past months the News has received a rising stream of complaints about heavy-handed or unreasonable behaviour by the attendants.

Now we have decided to act and are today saying: "Ticket? Stick it!" to encourage protest in a bid to get the council to ensure that rules of reasonable behaviour are issued and stuck to by the enforcers, and officers are allowed to use their own discretion and common sense.

To force the council to act we are calling for everyone who receives a parking fine to appeal against it - no matter whether you are in the right or wrong.

The appeals system is already close to breaking point with a two-and-a-half month backlog. However, if the council is flooded with more appeals it should bring it to a grinding halt, forcing the council to listen to those who use the city’s roads.

It follows cases like that of Lynn Lund, a tax inspector who bought a valid pay-and-display ticket in London Road, but was issued with a penalty notice as her eight-year-old son had knocked the ticket from the windscreen.

Motorists like Judith Whitelaw, who was ticketed as she was putting 1.60 into a meter in St Andrew Square; like Jacqueline Smith, a nanny who was given a ticket for parking on double yellow lines - two days before they were painted; like the motorists who parked in Lochend Close and received tickets for parking on yellow lines that didn’t exist; like Karen Brown, who was ticketed despite having half an hour left on her pay-and-display ticket, because the Enforcer did not see it.

There are also concerns that antipathy towards the Enforcers because of their over-zealous approach is spreading to traffic wardens - who are entirely separate from the parking attendants. Traffic wardens are civilians employed by the police and are responsible for keeping Greenways clear. While the council denies that the Enforcers are working to quotas, or different rules than previous parking attendants, just how much more enthusiastic they are in the issuing of tickets is glaring.

In the first six months of this year, CPS employees handed out 109,700 tickets - 15,831 more than in the same period when APCOA’s Blue Meanies first took over three years ago.

The amount of cash collected was 2.9 million compared to 1.6m, although the rise was partly due to the fixed penalty notices rising from 40 to 60. In May alone this year, 23,233 tickets were issued, compared to 18,864 in May 1999 - a rise of nearly 25 per cent.

For the council, it’s a success story. The Blue Meanies lost the contract last year because the council felt there weren’t enough attendants out on the streets 24 hours a day - which of course meant fewer tickets were being issued.

The council says money has nothing to do with it; that CPS won the contract after a tendering process; that they’re on a fixed contract which is not performance-related; and the individual parking attendants are not given targets for tickets. And the profit the council gets from the fines is, it says, never budgeted for, but is "assumed income" and is redistributed to other transport projects - mainly on road and pavement repairs, the budget for which has gone up by 50 per cent this year to 3.8m.

But critics say the ticketing figures prove that Enforcers are coming down too harshly on motorists.

Critics like taxi driver Kenny Proudfoot, who fell foul of the Enforcers after he went to collect a guest from the Balmoral Hotel at the beginning of the year. He was booked for being three minutes over the allowed waiting time.

"I haven’t paid a bean and I don’t intend to pay because the whole thing was ridiculous in the first place. I’m all for the Evening News campaign to get something done - I’m behind that one," he says.

Frank Donlevy, of Bruntsfield Domestic Appliances, also wholeheartedly backs our campaign. He says: "My son had a ticket, which he appealed, and it has taken three months to get it cleared, even though the council said they have taken on another six people to help cope."

Max Parker, a local businessman and co-founder of pressure group League Against Parking Hell, supports any kind of action against parking fines in Edinburgh. "Edinburgh Enforcers really need to learn a bit of discretion. If they don’t listen to the motorists at the time, then they’ll have to listen when the whole system is so clogged up no money is being made."

Another critic is George Forsyth, who runs Sparta Amatuer Boxing Club. In February punters parked outside the club in McDonald road were issued tickets unlawfully."

Mr Forsyth says: "One person who was visiting our club was a guy in a wheelchair. He was displaying his disabled badge and he still got a ticket. That’s how ridiculous the system is."

Neil Greig, the AA’s head of policy for Scotland, says: "Independent reports show that there are more mistakes made in Edinburgh ticketing and that you’re more likely to win an appeal."

The number of successful appeals against 30 fines doubled last year to 432, but even if appeals to the council are rejected, they can be takne further - to the Scottish Parking Appeals Service. A spokesperson says: "Between September 2001 and August 2002, 1035 Edinburgh cases were heard by SPAS. Of those, 432 were successful."

Graham Bell, spokesman for the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise, has spoken out about how the Enforcers are bad for business in the city.

"It is perfectly right and proper that Edinburgh should police its parking through the warden system, but not to create an undue profit which stifles business in the city.

"We would encourage people who feel they have been unfairly ticketed to go through the appeals system."

Liberal Democrat environment spokeswoman, Councillor Sue Tritton says: "I’m absolutely in favour of people being ticketed when they park in dangerous places, but some people have been given tickets when they shouldn’t have.

"There are a lot of errors and I suspect they’re trying too hard to get the money."

Tory transport spokesman Councillor Allan Jackson says: "I’ve already called for a report on the parking restrictions. Time and again I receive letters from people who have been given tickets when they should not have been. The situation is ludicrous."

City transport leader Councillor Andrew Burns says: "Central Parking Systems have had the contract in the city for less than a year. It’s coming up to one year old on December 3, 2002.

"As part of an ongoing review of that contract, we have got an annual report going to the Environmental Quality Scrutiny Panel.

"To produce the report, we’ve been benchmarking Edinburgh’s parking controls in comparison to a host of other cities across the United Kingdom. The statistics show that Edinburgh is very much in the middle of the league tables, and all that info will come out in the annual review of the CPS contract.

"Edinburgh issues just over 250,000 tickets per year. Over 99 per cent of those tickets are never contested, never appealed, and accepted by the people who receive them. Less than one per cent - 0.71 per cent - are contested or appealed. Of those, only 0.19 per cent are successfully appealed. Those figures indicate that well over 99 per cent of tickets issued in Edinburgh are duly paid."

Additional reporting by John Rutter and Miranda Fettes

Victim pays the price for folIowing their advice

STRUAN Robertson is just one of the Enforcers’ latest victims. The 38-year-old works as a contracts manager with Peter Hosie Carpets in Edinburgh and was on his way to see a customer when he parked in Johnston Terrace around 1pm yesterday.

As he had no change for a parking ticket he was delighted to see an Enforcer in the street so he could explain the situation.

"He told me that was fine and I could go and get some change for the meter from a nearby corner shop," says Mr Robertson. "He even asked me to point out my car so that he wouldn’t ticket it by mistake."

However, when Mr Robertson got back just minutes later he found the familiar red and white penalty notice attached to his windscreen. Furthermore, the Enforcer he had originally spoken to was nowhere to be seen and in fact a different one had issued the ticket.

"He just shrugged when I tried to explain what had happened," he says. "He wasn’t interested at all and in fact said the other parking attendant shouldn’t have told me it was ok to get some change."

Furious, Mr Robertson contacted the credit card payment line for Edinburgh City Council and was again told that the Enforcer should not have agreed to him parking in the first place and that there was nothing else they could do. The fine was legal and would stand.

"If I wanted to appeal against it, I would have to do it in writing. As a result of getting that one parking ticket, I had to reschedule meetings with customers for the rest of the day," he says.

"If the first Enforcer had said it wasn’t fine to park and then get change, I would have moved my car. I’m an Edinburgh resident, I pay my council tax on time and you’re made to feel like a criminal when you get a parking ticket.

"I support anything that will sort this out and I think the Evening News campaign is a great idea."

A spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council would only say: "Mr Robertson’s car was sighted at 12.57pm and, following a five-minute observation period without a valid permit, a parking ticket was issued.

"Attendants do not radio between each other to say, for example, that someone will be back at their car in five minutes’ time."

The Evening News says protest!

THE Evening News is urging readers to protest at the heavy-handed enforcement of parking regulations by appealing against parking tickets. Hopefully an avalanche of appeals will force the council to act and rein in the parking attendants.

So how do you dispute the penalty charge notice? The fine is 60, but if you pay within 14 days it is 30. Appealing against the fine simply freezes the process, so, even if you lose the appeal, you still have the opportunity to pay only 30.

The Evening News wants everyone who gets a ticket to appeal as a protest. It may make the council realise the depth of anger in the city and bring the system to a grinding halt.

The first thing to do is look at the back of the ticket where you will find the appeal process detailed under the heading Enquiries. You have to appeal in writing to the Notice Processing Centre, PO Box 17065, Edinburgh, EH11 3YU, explaining where you were parked and giving details of the fine. You should also go on to explain the grounds on which you think you should not be fined.

Alternatively, you could visit the city council’s Collections Office at 25 Waterloo Place and fill out a Penalty Charge Notice Enquiry form there, giving the circumstances you want the council to consider. The parking section of the council’s transport department then investigates the appeal and either admits the ticket was issued in error, or upholds the fine and explains why. A letter is then sent to the driver notifying them of the decision.

The number of appeals it has received from Edinburgh in the last year reached 1035 and the number of successful appeals against 30 fines more than doubled to 432.

So stick it to them.

If you have a story about over-zealous Enforcers, then let us know. Call the Newsdesk on: 0131-620 8732