"Nowadays, many people feel that they're filling a council's coffers, and we have research that shows private parking attendants, like the ones many councils employ, come bottom of tables in terms of trust among motorists." - Paul Hodgson of the RAC
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TENS of thousands of parking tickets carrying fines totalling 14 million have gone unpaid in Scotland's four biggest cities since the offence was decriminalised there.
In 1997, parking enforcement was changed from a criminal to a civil matter in some local authority areas, with teams of council attendants replacing police traffic wardens.
Since then, a total of 211,000 tickets from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow have not been paid.
Figures show 62 per cent of unpaid tickets were issued more than a year ago. The initial cost of unpaid tickets is 30, but this fine doubles if motorists fail to pay within two weeks.
However, drivers are increasingly taking advantage of the limited powers held by councils to enforce the tickets. Previously, the threat of criminal action and a potential prison sentence ensured prompt payment of fines.
But it is now down to councils to recover them by raising a civil action, an expensive and time-consuming process.
As a result, in Edinburgh there are 72,140 outstanding tickets worth 5.7 million to the council, and of the 1.4 million fines slapped on motorists in Glasgow since 1999, 71,315, worth 5.6 million, remain active.
In Dundee, 10,303 tickets worth 500,000 are still uncollected, and in Aberdeen 57,000 fines totalling more than 2.1 million remain outstanding.
But, despite these figures, all four authorities insist they are vigorous in their pursuit of outstanding fines.
Glasgow City Council said: "The council pursues charges through a series of statutory measures, including surcharging the ticket with 50 per cent of its original value. Thereafter, if remaining unrecovered, the cases are passed to a contracted debt recovery agent for further enforcement."
In Edinburgh, where the council said unpaid tickets were dealt with by a firm of sheriff officers, it was shown last week that motorists parking illegally in the city's George Street paid out more than 600,000, making it the most ticketed street in Scotland.
Dundee City Council said sheriff officers were used to collect outstanding fines, and a spokeswoman said: "In more serious cases, arrestment of wages and impounding of vehicles may be considered."
Aberdeen City Council denied there was any issue over unpaid fines. "On average, 75 per cent of all fines are paid immediately and in some months the figures is as high as 80 per cent," it said in a statement. "Despite this high recovery, the council is always looking at options that will improve debt collection.
"Discussions are ongoing regarding the possible appointment of an external debt collection agency to pursue unpaid parking fines."
In Inverness, where illegal parking is still the responsibility of police traffic wardens and classed as a criminal offence, only 294 tickets worth 5,880 are still outstanding.
The Auditor General, who monitors council finances, may be called in to deal with the issue.
Paul Hodgson, from the RAC, said the problem highlighted a lack of trust. He said: "If you feel a parking attendant is working to hit targets and get bonuses, then it develops an attitude that it's a cat-and-mouse game, and so if you've been hit unfairly, then you'll try to get away with it. This is very different from ten or 20 years ago, when police issued tickets, because then you felt it was a 'fair cop'.
"Nowadays, many people feel that they're filling a council's coffers, and we have research that shows private parking attendants, like the ones many councils employ, come bottom of tables in terms of trust among motorists."