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Drivers pay price as trade body backs Excel’s signs

[18 Oct 2011] Nothing’s changed since a judge ruled that signs at a Stockport car park were so illegible they didn’t inform motorists of the contract they were supposedly entering into by parking there. (See also our news item ‘Bloody nose for Excel Parking...’ and Pikestaff 52.)

Excel Parking Services Ltd admitted in court that 11,498 people – a huge number – had failed to display a ticket in the three years to March 2010. Yet the company has done nothing to improve its signage. Instead it continues to hit motorists with £100 parking-charge notices and threaten court action for breach of contract if they don’t pay.

What’s worse, Excel is being assisted by the government’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Excel belongs to the British Parking Association (BPA) – a trade body – so the DVLA is willing for a fee to release registered-keeper details of vehicles whose numbers Excel provides. By tracing the registered keepers, Excel can hope to rake in £300,000 a year after threatening them with court action for breach of contract. The DVLA makes up to £3 million a year from releasing data to BPA private-parking members – a mutually beneficial love-in that seems too cosy for many motorists’ comfort.

The BPA has decided not to discipline Excel over the case, saying the signs comply with its code of practice for private firms. On the board overseeing the code sits Excel chief Simon Renshaw-Smith, though the BPA says he wasn’t involved in this decision. He did, however, draft much of the original code, which includes the legibility standards for signs.

As a trade body and not a publicly accountable regulator, the BPA can do what it likes. And because the case was heard in the county court, the BPA claims the ruling doesn’t set a legal precedent so it can be ignored. Why the BPA needs a precedent before it will act ethically is hard to tell. But to make their money, some parking companies need motorists to break their rules. If their signs are badly placed and illegible, they can operate very profitably – as long as they are BPA members sheltering behind its weak legibility standards.

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