14 December 2007

The Parking Racket

Every so often there is a story in the paper that makes you go, “WHAT?! Surely not.” A man, Jamie Thomson, went to a McDonald’s near Gatwick, ordered a burger, chips, coke, doughnut and coffee and then had the temerity to sit in the parking lot to eat them over the course of an hour. That was 15 minutes beyond the time limit. For that crime he now owes £213 and has been contacted by a debt collection agency and threatened with court action. It has been fairly well covered, to read further see here.

The background to this is that a couple of years ago the government in the UK decided to give parking enforcement over to the private sector, you know, since it has worked so well for public transport.

McDonald’s gave a contract to a company, Civil Enforcement, to police 40-odd parking lots against people who park too long. McDonald’s says that they do not profit from the fine. Strictly speaking, that is true. They profit from their contract with Civil Enforcement who pays McDonald’s to go motorist hunting, sorry, I mean enforce the regulations in their lots.

According to Civil Enforcement, they take photos of licence plates and then track the people with the help of the DVLA because it is “less confrontational than clamping and towing”. Well, no shit. I imagine that most people would drive away if someone came up to the car with a clamp or a tow truck. Getting people to leave may have been the original goal of McDonald’s giving the hunting licence, excuse me, parking enforcement contract, to CE, but now it’s just a way of fleecing people. The phrase highway robbery comes to mind.

The government is in effect subsidising Civil Enforcement because the company depends on the publicly funded courts and the DVLA database to extort, sorry, I mean, recover their fines from people who don’t just pay right away like sheep to the slaughter, sorry, I mean like responsible citizens.

It’s a nice racket. Since the UK doesn’t have anti-racketeering laws of any real meaning, it’s a pretty safe business too.

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29 December, 2007 10:34  

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