26 August 2009
Parking your car shouldn't be the utterly miserable, frustrating experience that it is.
It is an amazingly difficult, expensive and provocative business these days. It shouldn't be the most taxing or inconvenient task in the world - the act of safely leaving your car somewhere while you go about your daily business. But the parking mafia are out to get us.
City and town centre parking is a total scam. The charges are abhorrent, the enforcers are totally humourless and inflexible, we can send spaceships to Jupiter but we can't make a machine that gives change (there's nothing worse than the hateful feeling you experience when you are forced to pay £2.10 parking with a brace of £2 coins) and the land used by councils for car parks belongs to the taxpayer anyway, therefore making it essentially a stealth tax on us.
Have you had the misfortune to be at a hospital lately? Not content with making relatives worry about the treatment, condition and care of their loved ones, they add to the strain by charging extortionate rates at hospital car parks, which always used to be (rightly) free. You are severely fleeced for a mere hour's worth of visiting time and many stories are circulating now about how appallingly car owners are treated by jobsworth car park enforcers when their stay is extended by an emergency situation.
Street parking is now almost impossible thanks to either needless double yellow lines or those irritating blue signs which either give a set time of day for parking restrictions, or claim it is a 'permit only' road, even though every house on it has a garage and a driveway - ample room for two cars. I once got a ticket for parking 'out of hours' on one of these roads, and I wrote a haughty letter to the police chief responsible for parking (bet that role doesn't gain an A* on the jobsatisfactionometer) pointing out that the uneducated person who commissioned the sign had neglected to say whether the hours in question were the allowed hours or prohibited hours. He wrote back to say his underling was right to issue the ticket, but waived it nonetheless - on reflection, I think writing it on the headed notepaper of the town's radio station where I was breakfast show host at the time had something of an effect.
Traffic wardens are renowned for self-benefitting when it comes to their own cars, turning a blind eye when a colleague uses the very areas which they would issue tickets in if Joseph Public dared leave his car there. Car clampers should be banned, irrespective of whether they are public or private - they did away with wheel clamping in France within a month of its introduction because of people power, and that's what we should do here.
In Nottingham, they're ready to introduce charges for companies whose employees park cars at their places of work - ie, on private land. How on earth can they get away with that? Just how outrageous does someone's plan to empty money from someone's purse or pocket have to be before enough is enough?
It's not just the authorities out to get the law-abiding car owners. There are some totally thoughtless drivers who are ruining it for the rest of us. Like those who ruthlessly ignore parent and child spaces at supermarkets because they are too lazy and too fat and they simply have to get their multipack of peanuts and bottles of cheap vodka at a struggling mother's expense.
People have orange badges for all sorts of dubious reasons, allowing them to park their totally unadapted car in disabled spaces when someone with real physical difficulty might need that space. I know of someone who possesses an orange badge simply because they once had an ingrowing toenail, for example. There is vast misappropriation and misuse of these badges.
And no, leaving your hazards on does not decriminalise an illegal act of parking. Shift it, now.
In France, the big cities quite like people to visit them, to eat in their restaurants, to spend money in their shops, to tour their attractions. So they aid the process by offering everybody free parking in their public car parks and side streets all day, every day. No signs. No hideous machines. No warnings of prosecution. No yellow lines.
It's bliss. And it works too - more people visit, more goodwill is felt, more money rolls into the city's businesses and everyone thrives either through being valued as a customer or visitor, or being aided and protected as a business person or public body. It would be too easy (ie, too difficult) for it to happen here and unfortunately, the powerful know that for as long as we remain reliant on our cars, through inadequate public transport and the pressures of work, they can victimise us on everything a car owner needs to function.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've just been asked to move my (legally parked) car.