West End parking bays to be fitted with sensors, sparking tariff fears

The ‘Evening Standard’ reports;

Parking attendant

Every paid-for parking bay in London’s West End will be remote-controlled by the end of next year in a move which has raised concerns that motorists may be hit with new peak tariffs and electronic fines.

Westminster council will spend £1.5m fitting sensors to up to 10,000 bays in the borough, beginning with the installation of 3,000 of the devices in three of the busiest parking zones in the West End.

The borough – which was last year defeated in its attempt to introduce night-time parking charges – has embarked on the biggest scheme of its kind in Europe after a three-month pilot last year.

The sensors are sunk into the street on the edge of each bay to detect vehicle movements and they send a signal to the “ParkRight” smartphone app to enable drivers to quickly find a vacant parking space.

Westminster insists the technology will initially be limited to boosting occupancy rates and ensuring motorists cannot avoid parking charges. It claims road congestion will be reduced, citing research that says a third of urban traffic consists of motorists searching for somewhere to park.

But they also admit that the technology could be used to set new peak hourly charges – with the current maximum set at £4.40 per hour – and off-peak discounts using a system of “variable tariffs”.

This is made possible as sensors pick up demand more precisely than ever before parking demand so, in theory, it can manipulate driver behaviour by charging more in busy streets and less in quieter ones.

Daniel Astaire, Westminster cabinet member for business, said: “This is a truly ground-breaking project and is one of the exact reasons I took on this portfolio – to make parking easier. Only San Francisco really has anything similar in the world and we have worked hard to get this project off the ground, as it will benefit motorists, businesses and residents right across the city.”

The borough, which rakes in £38m a year from motorists, reckons sensor-controlled bays will eventually make an annual profit of £800,000 on the 3,000 West End bays.

But campaigners say this could be dwarfed by other potential revenues, such as variable tariffs and enforcement.
They say that automatic fines could be issued by email as sensors can detect the minute a motorist has overstayed the maximum stay of four hours, although the council says it has no plans for this.

Parking campaigner Paul Pearson said: “I think that the public are very sceptical of anything parking related that the council does following the West End Parking tax fiasco. The fact that these sensors are being installed in exactly the same streets that would have been affected by night time and Sunday charging makes me very suspicious.

“I suspect that pretty soon after installation they will start using the sensors to enforce maximum stays and use the data fed back as a basis to increase parking charges based on occupancy such as in San Francisco.”

Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour group at Westminster council, said: “Westminster’s parking operation is a massive money-making business so these changes are driven by the prospect of more income for the council. Making it easier for motorists to find a parking place will come at a cost through higher charges, particularly in the West End.”

It will start in November and take a year to extend to every paid for and disabled bay in the borough.

Sensors would be fitted at all paid-for bays and disabled bays in Westminster, starting with zones E (Mayfair), F3 and 6 (Oxford Street, Marble Arch), G (Westminster, Victoria) and extended to the remainder fo the borough fromAugust 2014. The councils says parking attendants – or “marshals” – will have access to the real-time data and can direct drivers to empty spaces from the kerb-side.

Your say: ‘Fines for being 30 seconds late would be ridiculous’

Cecile Williams, 42, psychologist living and working in central London

“I drive a lot around town for work, to shop and to pick up my children. Drivers can already be fined so much and so easily, especially so in central London. I don’t think we need to be charged even more with premium charges in popular places like Oxford Circus and I would worry the sensors in parking bays would mean even stricter enforcements. I do like the idea of knowing where spaces are free though – that would be very useful.”

Edita Zadeikyte, 35, a PA working and living in central London.

“For work, I drive around central London a lot. I don’t think drivers need even stricter enforcement on meters and the fact that you might over-stay in a bay for 30 seconds and get a fine is ridiculous. I would be ok with it if they compensated you for the time you didn’t use up – so if you paid for an hour and only stayed for 40 minutes, then they should get some money back.”

David Ashcroft, 26, air conditioning mechanic who works in London but lives in Maidstone.

“I’ve had my fair share of parking fines in London. The idea that you could be charged or fined for a couple of minutes over is ridiculous. I often run over on jobs by a few minutes and so I’m sure this new system would mean me getting even more fines. Also, I don’t like the idea of the council knowing where I go all the time. Knowing where spaces are free nearby to jobs would be a lifesaver, though.”

Liam Balcombe, 25, window cleaner from Southend who works in London.

“I’m not sure a system that tells you where spaces are free would actually be that helpful to be honest. If you drive in central London enough, you know where free spaces are and I don’t want other people knowing they are free too. I am definitely not up for higher charges and premium rates either. It’s pricey enough.”

This entry was posted in Council finances, Parking, West End and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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