MPs urge extra help for drivers to challenge penalties and lower fines for minor offences
Heavy-handed parking attendants who issue an excessive number of tickets will be curbed under plans to be set out this week by a committee of MPs.
Drivers should be given more help to challenge unfair penalties, urges a report by the Commons transport select committee, amid evidence that many simply pay up rather than go through the thicket of bureaucracy involved in fighting an unfair ticket while the fine mounts up.
The report will back a two-tier system of fines where more minor offences will attract smaller penalties. Drivers would no longer receive the same punishment for overstaying a few minutes on a meter as for parking on double yellow lines.
The proposals, to be published on Thursday, will be welcomed by ministers, who are planning to announce an overhaul of parking enforcement next month. They are expected to include both measures as well as a ban on councils setting quotas of tickets for wardens to issue.
'We see this as an opportunity to make it consistent, fair and not [weighted] against the motorist,' said one Department for Transport official.
The moves reflect growing public anger at the rise in the issue of fixed penalties. Over-zealous wardens have put tickets on hearses and ambulances, and one south London businessman who broke his leg in a traffic accident even had a ticket put on his scooter as he was lifted into an ambulance. Drivers who parked legally have returned to find yellow lines painted carefully around their cars and tickets on their windscreens.
The committee, chaired by the Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, found the number issued had soared since the Nineties, when the job of enforcement was shifted from police-appointed wardens and the magistrates' courts to civilian attendants.
Parking is now a major moneyspinner for many councils, with Westminster in central London making a staggering ?38m profit last year, mostly from meters.
Another four London authorities made at least ?10m, evidence to the MPs revealed, fuelling suspicions that making money rather than keeping the traffic flowing has become the prime motive.
The committee report is expected to acknowledge that sensible enforcement is crucial to keep cities traffic jam free, protect pedestrians and discourage people from using their cars. Sources close to the MPs confirmed backing for variable fines as a way of proving to motorists that the system is not just about raising cash.
The sources said there would be support for making it easier for motorists to challenge tickets. About a fifth of them now prompt complaints from drivers that they should not have been fined, but fewer than 1 per cent go to the adjudicator who can overrule councils. The MPs heard that because a fine doubles if it is not paid within 14 days, many drivers who feel they are innocent do not fight.
MPs are expected to recommend freezing this 'grace period' to allow more people to fight the ticket, and forcing councils to make drivers more aware of their rights.
The AA welcomed the plans but called for compensation to be paid to drivers who are wrongly ticketed. 'You are always going to get one or two rotten apples, but it's more than that. The general public feel that the motivation for it is all to do with raising revenue,' said policy officer, Paul Watters. 'The main thing will be convincing the public that this really will happen.'
Keith Banbury, chief executive of the trade body the British Parking Association which gave evidence to the committee, said the industry was already working on a variable fines system. 'If people park where they shouldn't they will still get a ticket but hopefully it will take some heat out of this emotive issue.'