If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Thank you Brizzle

I mentioned that I had been up to the Big City (Brizzle in this case) to see daughter no. 2 recently. While I was there I got a parking ticket. The circumstances were a bit difficult: D2 was not well when I got there and I had to take her to the medical centre for an emergency appointment. The nearest parking space was on-street, about 200 yards away. The instructions on the ticket machine weren't clear, and mistakenly I got a 'free' 15-minute ticket, rather than the 2-hour one I thought I had purchased. All to do with the precise method of inputting one's car registration number into the machine, which is rather counter-intuitive. Of course, when I went back to the car and hour later there was a big yellow sticker on the windscreen - and, curiously, my two pound coins still in the machine's exit slot where I had overlooked them earlier.

I phoned the helpline (hah!) number on the machine and got instructions on how to use it correctly, and then I re-fed my £2 into it and got a proper ticket. On the advice of the admittedly helpful man on the phone line, I got a note from the surgery to confirm that I had been there for the relevant times. When I got home, I sent this off with the tickets and a polite letter explaining the circumstances, humbly requesting that the penalty be cancelled. Humble and polite, because I wanted a result, not to beat my chest over my individual rights as a free citizen. In the words of my late mother-in-law, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. However, in bash-the-middle-class Britain, I expected a brusque reply along the lines of "you've done the crime, now pay the fine". Zero tolerance of community crimes, punishment for daring to want to park a - yeugh - car in the middle of a city, shock horror, who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are-little-man, we-hold-all-the-cards stuff.

This morning I received a reply. In the light of the representations I made, and in full consideration of the circumstances of the case, my penalty has been cancelled. In a way, I am satisfied that this was the right outcome. It was a genuine mistake, it was rectified as soon as I was able to, Bristol City Council lost nothing (my total stay, even including the 'free' period, was less than the two hours I paid for), and the instructions on the machine were far from clear, especially to someone in a bit of a panic with poorly offspring to look after. In less totalitarian times, I would have expected a response that recognised a genuine mistake, and realised that I was hardly a major criminal to be pursued to the utmost length of the law.

What is slightly disturbing is that this is exactly what I got. My surprise at the outcome (pleasant though it is) is the thing that disturbs me. We've got so used to the strict-liability, zero-tolerance culture (applied only to the law-abiding, of course) that an outcome like this is a shock to the system.

And it shouldn't be.

Well done to the worthy burghers of Bristol City Council Parking Enforcement Team, anyway. Your humanity and compassion are not unappreciated.


  1. Thankyou, thankyou, forelock tug, genuflection leaves the great one's presence - walking backwards.
    FFS get off your knees. they, under the circumstances, did the right thing, it's what they're supposed to do, it's their job, they get fucking paid to do it.

  2. Anon,

    Steady on. I'd be the first to suggest that saying "NO!" is the best way to go, but there is no harm in simply asking politely.

    Richard's second option was to get uppity.

    And anyway, the right result was achieved.

    Well done Richard!


  3. Pleased it's the outcome you wanted; and, it's good to recognise that you've publicised the human discretion exercised by the individual you contacted.

    In the cold light of day, half-an-hour composing a polite explanation has saved you - what - £30?

    What's probably most surprising is that your two quid were still in the exit slot.

    Some of your readers are old enough to remember supplementing pocket money by stuffing a rag up the exit slot in telephone kiosks to separate punters from their money when they "Pressed Button B".


  4. Anon: you have misunderstood the post completely. Did you actually read it? Paragraph 2, sentence 4 is a clue.

    CR: saying 'no' would have caused me a lot of hassle that I don't need, and I would still have been £50 to the bad at the end. By being reasonable I got the result I wanted. That's a win in my book. I'll pick my fights, and this wasn't one of them. And I don't mind giving credit where it's due, either.

    Joe: yes, in £ per minute terms it was quite good value. I was amazed that the £2 was still there too. Perhaps Bristolians are more honest that we think? Nah, it was just well hidden, or I would have probably seen it myself before I left the first time.

  5. Glad you got off ok, they are ruthless over here, one of my pet hates are parking attndants.

  6. Good to hear of humanity and compassion. However, some clarity in the instructions would also not go amiss.

    I wonder if they plan to put up some clearer instructions, now that they have heard of the difficulty? Or do they plan to carry on stiffing the drivers who don't complain?

    Good scam, though; make the instructions unclear so that you can issue lots of tickets, neutralise the potential uproar by refunding the ones who point this out, and smile while cashing the cheques from the timid ones and the busy ones.

  7. And they say these council chappies have no idea of how to run a business! This is a scam worthy of Trotter's Independent Trading, and wonderfully conceived.

    I agree: I doubt if we will be seeing clarification of the signs any time soon.

  8. Oh, I put it down to fortuitous incompetence rather than intelligent design... ;-)

  9. It's nice to see evidence of any system nowadays that allows the people who run it to use their discretion. Too often "the compuer says no" due to the spurious reason of standardised service quality or rather protection from allegations of discrimination. And the managerial target culture of X tickets per week as an indicator of efficiency doesn't help either.
    Bristol CC realise that the job in this case was the proper regulation of parking, not taxation of mistakes.
    I hope D2 is feeling better.

  10. Ihave managed dumilar wheezes with Manchester City Council! The problems arise when they outsource the administration to India.


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