Open-access content Wednesday 6th May 2009
The British Parking Association's approved operator scheme is a timely answer to the problem of enforcing safe, highly regulated parking control for the UK's 25 million cars
by Patrick Troy
7 May 2009
Many motorists are unaware of the initiatives to regulate the parking industry and make parking fairer for all.
One of the current issues in parking control concerned with private land and there is no formal legislation. Offices, supermarkets, shopping centres, leisure operations - in fact, any type of facility with a high footfall - are now more than likely to have parking control, or will be thinking about such measures.
The need for enforcement is simple: to ensure that those who have the genuine need to park there can, and will, be safe when doing so. Uncontrolled car parks can often become unofficial 'park and rides'. Enforcement can solve the many problems this can cause.
To assist in this area, the British Parking Association (BPA) introduced the Approved Operator Scheme (AOS) - a badge of quality that ensures private off-street car parks are controlled in a professional manner. The scheme is underpinned by a code of practice, which all approved operators must abide by, advising on best practice for parking facilities, appropriate levels of signage, pricing, staffing and administrative procedures.
The AOS currently has 82 members in the UK. It encourages landowners to select an approved operator and to avoid rogue ones.
Launched in October 2007, the AOS was devised in response to the then transport minister's 14-point plan to provide self-regulation of private parking. The plan included the set-up of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA) aimed at businesses that require electronic access to vehicle keepers' details on the DVLA database. The BPA was the first organisation to become an ATA in this sector and, as a result, can allow approved operators electronic access to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Association (DVLA) data, giving effective management of parking areas.
To gain approved status, operators must undergo a rigorous audit to ensure they meet the high standards set out in the code. Once compliance is achieved they can, if they wish, apply for electronic access to DVLA data.
Approved operators submit evidence annually to show continued compliance, highlighting any issues encountered and identifying proposed solutions.
A dedicated operations manager, supported by a team of development managers, conducts regular spot checks, inspecting premises and ensuring the code is being adhered to. Where members' operations are found to be non-compliant, remedial action is taken; failure to comply can lead to termination of membership.
The AOS is not part of formal legislation; it is voluntary, outlining the optimum standards for operators, which benefit by raising their profile among their customers. In turn, the scheme provides partner organisations with reassurance that they have chosen a parking operator that professionally delivers a reliable service and adheres to a code. The code applies to all parking facilities on private land.
Approved operators must ensure each parking facility has adequate signage to notify motorists of the regulations. This information must include notices on the issuing of parking tickets, payment methods and information on appeals. Any enforcement action must be carried out within the law.
Approved operators are able use a number of methods of parking enforcement, including vehicle immobilisation and removal, but they can also provide key administrative functions such as back office operation, data management and debt recovery.
Organisations seeking to recruit or become an approved operator can find out more information from the BPA (see box, left). Detailed guidelines, including the code of practice, are on the website. Interested parties can also view a fee structure for BPA membership which reflects the different types of organisation, including different sectors: public sector, commercial and overseas; and size/scale: national, large, medium, standard or small.
As parking is a service industry, it is essential that parking management is carried out both rationally and responsibly; members of the AOS deliver such a service. Management in any organisation, large or small, knows the importance of excelling in their level of service and parking facilities are no exception.
The industry has worked hard to raise standards and drive out the cowboys, and it is more important than ever to continue this work to improve the reputation of parking control.
Many leading operators work harmoniously with the scheme, and demand for improved services from clients is growing.
The AOS continues to develop and improve, and remains driven by client and customer demand. To this end, the code is currently being reviewed to ensure it benefits the operators, the clients and the motoring public, steering the standards of the private parking industry in the right direction.
Patrick Troy is chief executive of membership organisation, the British Parking Association
Why use an approved operator?In the UK, there are some 25 million cars in circulation; at any one time, 24 million of them are parked somewhere.
The key advantage of using an approved operator is peace of mind. You give delegated parking enforcement responsibility to a professional firm, working within industry guidelines.
These guidelines cover, and aim to standardise: pricing and payments, staffing and training, documentation and photography, uniforms, penalties, removals, Blue Badge enforcement, signage, and dispute resolution.
Many local authorities, retail outlets and commercial property managers currently use approved operators to manage their parking facilities.
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