Monday, 14 January 2013

More than 5,200 people end up paying for parking which was supposed to be free. Only in Barnet

Updated 7.30pm see below
Just before Christmas,  Barnet Council decided to offer residents the opportunity to park for up to two hours for free on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd December. This was supposedly to help boost high street trade. I know this because I check the Council's website daily, something which I suspect very few residents do. 

I visited North Finchley on the 22nd to take advantage of the free parking and was surprised to find the car park barely half full.  I also found that there were no signs about the free parking period in the car park in Castle Road and several people trying to pay by phone. I tried to tell some of them that parking was free for two hours. A few thanked me and went on their way but a couple said "there aren't any signs telling us its free so we are going to pay anyway because we don't want to risk getting a ticket."

When I returned to my car the same thing happened. People too worried about getting a ticket to take the risk especially as there were no signs telling them it was free.

I decided to submit an FOI request on the subject and today I received the response.

The questions and responses are below:

Q1. The number of car parks that had signs informing the public that parking was free for two hours. 
R1. None. Information was published on the Council’s website and local press.  There were also posters in local shops

Q2. Copies of any correspondence between Barnet Council and the pay by phone operator instructing them that car parking was free for two hours.
R2. We have not been able to locate any correspondences relating to this matter.
Q3. The number of payments by telephone that were taken on 22nd December 2012 for periods of two hours or less and the total value of those payments.

R3. The total number of transactions for 2 hours parking or less is 1043 for Off-street locations. On-street transactions were 4186. The approximate value of the transactions will be £9000.

So there was no correspondence telling the pay by phone provider that there was free parking for two hours, money was taken even though the Council had waived the charges and there were no signs in any of the car parks telling people the parking was free.  Given that Civil Enforcement Officers (traffic wardens) visit each of the car parks several times a day they would have been able to affix simple stickers letting residents know it was free parking.  It would have cost peanuts. The Council could have instructed the pay by phone company not to take payments on 22nd and 23rd but chose not to.

It's bad enough that the free parking was only for the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas but by failing to effectively communicate that policy they have failed to meet the objective of offering free parking namely to stimulate trade.  Cllr Dean Cohen should hang his head in shame.

Updated 7.30pm
The Barnet Times ran this story this afternoon and have now updated it with the revelation from Cllr Cohen that everyone who paid on the day has now been refunded. He said,
"We did put up posters but perhaps some more signs should have been put up too".  Dead right! Yet again a weak idea badly executed. The big issue is that Councillors simply don't listen and then they try and sort out the ensuing mess. Perhaps it would be better if they got it right first time.


  1. We need a way to stop the council pulling this sort of stunt again. Did you pay for up to 2 hours parking during that weekend? If so, write and ask for your money back. if the council get a few hundred letters of that kind which become more trouble than they are worth they might think twice about their actions in the future.

  2. Brent Cross has 8000 free parking spaces.

    It isn't hard to see why the High Street is withering on the vine.

    What we need are councillors who realise they need to do something bold and positive and help to revive the High Street.

  3. Shame is not something these psychopathic councillors understand. I fear we will have to wait until the elections before we can begin to see anything other than asset stripping by them. I don't know of any of our customers who availed themselves of the so called free parking - they were in fear of getting a ticket.

  4. It was a gesture that looked good in the media. However, by keeping it a secret on the days the Council made £9k. I wonder how this compares with a normal weekend?

    I would have expected most people to have done their Christmas shopping by then anyway.

    Isn't parking on a Sunday normally free anyway?

  5. Exactly. It was a cynical gesture from someone who doesn't even celebrate Christmas! And yes, to make it all the more insulting, parking is free on Sundays. Quite often now our town car park is fuller on Sundays!

    1. what can be more insulting then not celebrating xmas? Answer: writing silly responses with more then an hint of xenophobia.

  6. visitor from wales14 January 2013 at 22:23

    Not only were there no signs about free parking, there aren't any signs telling you your cash won't work in the parking machines! When I was in the car park behind the old Torrington on a visit to London recently, I spent ages trying and failing to ram my coins into the machine before someone pulled up behind me and said I could only pay with a mobile phone and plastic card. Well I don't have a mobile phone and if I did I wouldn't be using it to read out a credit card number in the middle of a car park, so basically I was excluded from the privilege of paying an extortionate amount to park for a short visit to North Finchley High Street. After taking it in turns with my sister-in-law to do a bit of shopping/guard the car from over-eager car park wardens, we drove round the empty 'residents only parking' side streets and ended up parking in Sainsbury's for free (refund of fee if you spend a fiver).

    Even if we'd paid at Sainsbury's, it would have been cheaper than paying for the same time in the council's car park. What sort of crazy logic is that?

    I can't help feeling there's an equalities case to be brought against the council on its car parking policy - it's certainly discriminating against people who don't have mobile phones or plastic money and I'm sure it could be shown that this disadvantages the elderly and poor disproportionately, also people who don't use mobile phones for medical reasons (migraine trigger for instance), maybe the Deaf Community. But maybe you've thought of all these things already.

    Good luck with your fight against bureaucrazy Barnet. You need it!

  7. Welcome visitor from Wales! You are absolutely right about it being a problem for some older drivers. However I would also say it is problem for the young and middle aged as well. Recently it took 6 attempts to get the pay by phone to accept my location number simply telling me it was an invalid location. Many people just give up and drive away - I've watched them do it! You can buy a scratch card or pay at a paypoint outlet but the wardens don't allow you any time so you will get a ticket if it takes more than a couple of minutes. The total irony is that while this was meant to save money it has actually cost a fortune in reduced parking income.

  8. visitor from wales15 January 2013 at 11:29

    Hmm, even worse than I thought then. I don't recall any notices telling me where I could buy a scratch card (gamble on winning the lottery so you can afford parking fine??!) or where a 'paypoint outlet' might be found, whatever one of them is.

    Mass civil disobedience might be in order here perhaps. Or a few people willing to challenge fines through the courts, or has this already been attempted? Car park flash mobs? A day when lots of people turn up in a car park, park without a ticket, leave notes on their cars and then send cheques to the council to cover their parking fees, or what the parking fees used to be before the 'new improved' system came into being?

    I don't know all the ins and outs of this, but you'd think after the Brian Coleman debacle, something would have been done.

  9. Pay by Phone IS unarguably discriminatory - particularly when it is the only means of paying as in Westminster's motorcycle parking charge. Westminster's line is that it is "exploring alternatives" and that it will review them in AFTER the various pay by phone contracts and framework agreements have gone through. They said this during the 18 month bike parking trial back in 2009 and they're still saying it today now that those first contracts have expired and are being renewed. Platitudinous? You bet! From what I gather from a letter from Westminster Council leader Philippa Roe, anyone wishing to know more about the exploration of alternatives should contact Lambeth Council. The head of parking there is Raj Mistry ( ). Lambeth are currently leading the procurement process to renew its and Westminster's (plus, I believe a couple of other councils') Pay by Phone contracts. A decision is due on the contracts tomorrow (Friday 18th Jan). The only way the Pay by Phone discrimination problem will be addressed is if enough people make a noise about it and keep doing so.