It’s time for a fresh approach to enforcement when it comes to parking

Fresh PCN enforcement strategy

 

I believe that it’s time for a fresh approach to parking enforcement.

In the wake of the reports of a number of issues at parking operators where behaviour of frontline staff and of senior management has been found questionable (at best), we need to take a look at the model itself, rather than believe that the behaviour of a few unscrupulous staff members is the cause of the issues.

I’d argue, rather, that their behaviour is an outcome, rather than the underlying cause of the issues we face as an industry. These behaviours are the result of the way operators make their money when they take on the management of (for example) a retailer’s car parking estate with the often over-zealous enforcement of rules as recently exposed by BBC’s ‘Rip off Britain’.

Incumbent operators create contracts in which they make money almost solely based on the number of Penalty Charge Notices they can issue. With shareholders and owners to answer to for revenues, is it any wonder that the numbers of enforcements rises – and that when they do not rise of their own accord, staff members are tempted to use the letter of the law over the spirit to increase their number? And even if they do not turn to questionable tactics suggested in the articles above, businesses that subscribe to this model are likely to go after even the slight violations – because their operating model relies on the volume of enforcements issued and collected.

At the same time, destinations – whether retail, leisure, landlords – that contract operators based on a model that rewards hard enforcement may well be (unwittingly), compromising their own brands and damaging their relationships with their end-customers.

Research conducted for NCP showed that four in ten (40%) people say they have avoided retail sites where parking rules are unclear or confusing or where they risk a PCN. Over half (52%) of all motorists have visited a particular destination because they know the parking rules are clear. I would be willing to bet that consumers take a “once bitten, twice shy” approach where they have received a penalty – and would think twice before returning to park with at a retail or leisure site where they have previously experienced a PCN.

While a parking contract might feel like money well-spent on enforcement, the manner of that enforcement is, based on our research, potentially costly – with that cost manifested in compromised customer relationships. Furthermore, and quite apart from the interests of consumers who make understandable mistakes which lead them to face a charge they can ill-afford and the interests of the brands we represent when we take on parking contracts, these behaviours do nothing for the reputation our industry.

That’s why the team at NCP want to challenge the status quo and bring a different approach – one that balances the needs of businesses with those of customers and of consumers.

When we launched our management solutions team to target retail and leisure non-chargeable parking markets in a bid to challenge the incumbent – largely ANPR-based – service providers, we took a different approach. Yes, the new offer combines NCP’s existing expertise in paid parking solutions. But, to cater precisely to property owners concerned by the shortcomings of the incumbents, we have developed a bespoke approach termed “considerate enforcement”.

Our new business unit within NCP’s existing infrastructure will serve landlords, management companies, retail park and shopping centre owners, as well as leisure businesses who might be questioning their current approach – or who might have been prompted by recent events to look more closely at their current practices.

The system – which combines technologies including ANPR with a dedicated team based in NCP’s Manchester customer contact operation – puts clients’ customer relationships at its heart. Before Parking Charge Notices are issued to motorists, each potential contravention is thoroughly reviewed and a sequence of manual checks are conducted by the in-house team to ensure that notices are issued correctly, rather than relying almost entirely on technology which operates in black and white.

Three quarters (73%) of motorists believe there should be some leeway concerning PCN’s if someone has made a genuine mistake, while a similar proportion (76%) think that if they enter a retail or leisure attraction car park by mistake and leave within a short amount of time, they should not be charged.

I tend to agree with them – we need a different approach.

So I believe that the approach NCP is taking will go a long way in improving the customer experience and thus their opinion of the venue in question, and have economic benefits by lowering the volume of contested PCNs. It could be good for all parties. And put right some of the wrongs elsewhere in our industry.

 

Max Crane-Robinson

Commercial Director at NCP