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News & views

Bloody nose for Excel Parking over bad signs

Martin Cutts of Plain Language Commission has just won an 18-month battle against Excel Parking Services Ltd, a Sheffield-based company that slapped a £100 charge notice on his car windscreen after he parked in Stockport without displaying a ticket in March 2010. Excel sued him for breach of contract when he refused to pay. The company claimed that motorists who use the Peel Centre car park automatically accept its contract terms and conditions.

Martin, who represented himself in the case, heard in Stockport county court on 15 September, argued that Excel had failed to make reasonable efforts to alert him to the supposed contract and its terms. He said the text on the entrance-board notice was illegible to the typical motorist: ‘The relevant parts of the notice were the words “Pay and display”, which was in lettering only 13mm high and surrounded by lots of visual clutter. There was also a mish-mash of terms and conditions and other text, most of which was only 5mm high. From 7 metres away, driving at 10mph, people just don’t see or read this stuff. What they see is large text saying “Welcome to the Peel Centre” and a big “P” for parking. This gives them the mindset that the car park is free, like so many car parks near big stores. There’s no barrier or ticket machine at the entrance.’

The judge visited the site twice to see the set-up for herself, and Martin showed photographic evidence of other local car parks where the signs are large and clear. The words ‘Pay and display’ are typically 65mm high at council-run car parks: five times bigger than at the Peel Centre.

Martin commented: ‘The entrance I used was, I believe, got up to look like the entrance to a free car park. The fact that 11,498 people had fallen into the same trap in the previous three years, according to Excel’s own figures, shows how easy it was to make this mistake. So why didn’t Excel do something about it, say by painting “Pay and display” in large lettering on the entrance roadway? Do the maths: 11,498 x £100 = £1.15 million. So there’s big money in unclear signs: big money that’s being ripped out of the local economy from motorists’ pockets.’

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