The parking industry might bemoan the relentless stream of negative stories in the media, and there would certainly be justification for feeling aggrieved that positive steps to drive up service standards have received very few column inches outside of the main industry titles. The fact remains, however, that no motorist takes delight from receiving a parking charge. And, we have to accept that perceived malpractice of any form will provide a licence for a vociferous minority to secure media endorsement for their views even where those views may be ill-informed, misdirected or, in some cases, malicious – and, in the process, tarnish the industry as a whole. Parking service providers are, quite simply, soft targets.
We could cry foul – but why would anyone listen? We could dust off the hard hat and armour plating and just take the criticism on the chin, but what would that achieve? We could take steps to deflect the fire back towards irresponsible motorists, though in my experience, a tit-for-tat attitude rarely benefits anyone. Or, we could mount a concerted campaign to restore public confidence in an industry that is an unsung but critical resource for local economies and local communities all over the country. But where would we start when there is so much entrenched scepticism and latent suspicion?
I believe the parking industry has to face up to the less than favourable current perceptions of the motoring public and capitalise on any development that will serve to substantiate its position as a responsive, responsible and progressive service sector. I believe the new Code of Practice for Parking could provide just such an opportunity.
Indirectly, the new code will have the stamp of respectability, authority and relative impartiality that accompanies any legislation and, hopefully, it will provide a clear reference point for motorists, landowners and parking operators alike.
We won’t change perceptions overnight but, from such a firm and consistent foundation, we can take decisive steps to begin eroding the prevailing negativity and, slowly but surely, start to win over the hearts and minds that have eluded the parking industry for far too long.
The key, of course, will be compliance.
Winning over hearts and minds
The reason the new code can represent a new horizon for the parking industry is that the scrutiny on the industry will be even more visible than ever before. That’s not a bad thing. In fact it’s a very positive development, as both the International Parking Community (IPC) and British Parking Association (BPA) have sought compliance with approved and accepted standards for many years.
Indeed, the stringent audits and scrutiny from the likes of the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) have been in place for many years, although have remained largely unseen and unrecognised outside of the industry. But, now, every party has had a say in the development of the new code, and that reduces the risk of any unfounded disrespect or disdain. There is unlikely to be much wriggle room for any party and any would-be grey areas should be that much more black-or-white – well, we hope so anyway!
For IPC members, we’re expecting the transition to the new code of practice to be relatively seamless. Of course, there will be some challenges, not least in sourcing and installing new signage in every car park and grappling with some new administrative procedures. And no one should underestimate the complexity of the parking industry, so it will be a very steep learning curve for anyone who sits on the new Scrutiny Board that will be monitoring and ensuring compliance with the new code. Transparency at all levels and full accountability at all times will definitely be the order of the day… and in the coming years.
Our experience and commitment to undertake pre-audits of signage and documentation at every car park operated by an IPC member has always helped to ensure operational legality and compliance before an operator can undertake any enforcement action. It has also overcome the reported high number of appeals that have been upheld by POPLA as a direct result of unclear signage. We have also introduced detailed audits for all self-ticketing operations, with details logged and updated biennially, as well as a self-reporting tool to enable operators to report any perceived breach of the IPC code.
Any motorist or MP who wishes to complain about the practices of any operator also have dedicated online portals to simplify the process, optimise response times and act as a catalyst for continuous improvement. And we regularly undertake physical car park audits and ‘mystery shopper’ exercises to assess compliance and service standards.
Because our members are familiar with, and agree with, the procedures and disciplines of this proactive approach to compliance, the adoption of the new code will not demand a major step change in the way they operate or the way we ensure adherence to the agreed standards.
The need for scrutiny by design
The increasing scrutiny must not be taken lightly, though. As evidenced by our existing disciplines and approach to compliance, it really should be a case of scrutiny and transparency by design. In other words, practices and procedures should always be designed from the outset to accommodate and deliver scrutiny and accountability in all circumstances – not designed for operational convenience or expediency where assurance of compliance is then dependent upon an imposed (and avoidable) layer of bureaucratic checks and investigation.
It really is a case of thinking about the objectives, taking positive steps in advance and planning ahead to ensure actions and processes are truly fit for purpose once the content of the new code has been finalised – and that applies to the accredited parking associations as well as their respective members. It will be a case of adjusting existing practices and fine-tuning processes to deliver the assurance that is required. Such an approach, however, must not be a one-off gesture.
The highly complex nature and composition of the parking industry and the multitude of diverse stakeholder groups will invariably throw up new and unforeseen challenges along the way. Consequently, it will always be important that any measures taken to ensure compliance also satisfy the need for agility, constant evolution and continuous improvement. This is certainly the way forward as far as the IPC is concerned.
By expanding our administration team, we are freeing up management resources and preparing the ground for evermore vigilant monitoring and assessment to ensure the spirit, as well as the content, of the new Parking Code of Practice delivers the right outcomes where it matters the most – on the parking frontline.
Vicky Jarrett is the IPC’s senior operations manager.
The International Parking Community (IPC) is a DVLA Accredited Trade Association (ATA) representing parking operators from both the public and private sectors. The IPC is a trade association, and lobby group, for industry professionals.
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