Ok, true (and somewhat delayed, because I needed to know the outcome) story.
A few weeks ago, my wife, my son and I drove down to Scarborough to attend Fantasycon by the Sea 2016. We arrived, as planned, on Thursday and parked outside the hotel. A passing parking warden was kind enough to explain that I needed to buy a parking permit from the hotel, allowing me to park there for 24hrs. So I went into the hotel, checked in, bought the ticket and placed it under the window. Everything seemed to be in order, so we went to the hotel and found our room.
On Saturday, I went out of the hotel, with the new parking permit, to discover – horror of horrors – that a parking warden had slapped a ticket on my car.
I was livid. I’d purchased two permits so far and there was nothing wrong with the way I was parked. (The parking warden I’d met certainly hadn’t said there was anything wrong.) To add insult to injury, something was wrong with the packaging – the damp had seeped into the ticket, making it hard to read. So I read the parking ticket in the car, feeling my temper going through the roof. £50? £25 if I paid ASAP? I’d bought a parking permit, damn it! And it was clearly visible.
I went back to the hotel, only to be told I needed to either go to the town hall or send the parking wardens an email. The town hall was very close, but – it being Saturday – it was closed. (I think the guy at the front desk just wanted to get rid of me, as I doubted the town hall would be open right from the start.) So I went back to my room and sent the council an email, pointing out that I did have a permit. Four hours later, I went back to the car and guess what?
Another parking ticket!
I moved the car forward, just in case that was offending the passing wardens. I put the ticket by the driver’s seat, just in case that was causing them to miss it (although I thought it was polite to put it on the pavement side, rather than on the road side). And I sent another email, repeating my earlier inquiry.
Nothing happened for the rest of our stay – we left on Monday. I wondered, as we drove home, if the car had been parked poorly after all. But it wasn’t until a week later that I received a pair of emails from the council, explaining that the permit(s) hadn’t been filled in perfectly – I’d marked the day, month and week, but I’d missed the year. I was even more livid when I read the email – lucky, they were prepared to waive the fee if I sent them the tickets. (Or I could surrender and pay two lots of £25.)
Now, I needed those permits for tax purposes, so I sent the permits (or what I thought were the permits) back to the council. I included a stamped postcard they could send to confirm they had arrived and a SAE, so they could return them.
Fast forward a few days. I get another pair of emails, one waiving a charge and the other insisting I still had to pay (basically, a repeat of the first email). I sent back another email, pointing out that I’d sent both permits. They responded, eventually, by saying I’d sent the wrong permit. (THIS TIME, they told me something useful … like, you know, the number on the permit.) At which point, I sent them the correct permit …
And a day or so later I got told that both charges had been cancelled. And they still had to be prodded to return all three permits. (God alone knows what happened to the postcard, as I never got it.)
Victory for me, right?
Well, yeah … at the cost of roughly £7 in stamps and a small amount of time wasted answering emails, sorting out what to send (twice) and then nagging them to return the parking permits. About the only consolation I have is that the council and their parking wardens didn’t get a penny. Which is good, right?
The thing that bugs me about the whole affair is this – I acted in good faith.
Now, good faith is doing everything in your power (within reason) to do something. If I post someone a cheque on Monday, knowing it has to be there by Friday, I have every reason to assume that the letter will reach its destination before the deadline. The letter being delayed because of something outside my power (a postal strike, for example) is not my fault – I still acted in good faith. If I have sufficient funds in my bank account to pay the cheque, it is not my fault the cheque bounces; if the payee doesn’t pay it in on time, it is not my fault the funds don’t reach their account by the deadline.
If I had parked outside the hotel without paying for the permit, gambling that no wardens would wander past (a dangerous gamble in Scarborough, where they were prowling around like vultures looking for wounded prey), I would have deserved the parking ticket. That’s not disputable. I would have gambled and lost. But to slap a parking ticket on my car because of a pettifogging insistence on pointless rules …
No one, least of all me, would dispute that some mistakes are fatal, that some mistakes are so bad that the person who committed it cannot be allowed another chance. But this was not one of them. If the parking warden who’d put the first ticket on the car had scribbled a note to explain the problem, it could have been fixed. Instead, I had to waste a great deal of time that I really did not have to spare.
And I think I can safely say I have no intention of returning to Scarborough.
I’m pretty sure a few people reading this are not going to be impressed with the above statement. Scarborough existed for centuries before I was born and will probably be around for centuries after everyone has forgotten I ever existed. But consider this – I spent roughly £800-£1000 in Scarborough; buying books, buying food, buying ice cream on the beach … and last, but not least, paying for our hotel room. A certain percentage of that money will be taxed, a certain percentage will go into the council’s coffers. If I don’t return next year, local businesses will lose income and thus the council will lose tax.
This is small potatoes, of course. I doubt that the council will even notice a drop in the bucket (realistically, it’s smaller than a drop). But what happens if hundreds of other tourists do the same? What happens if the advantages of visiting Scarborough – which is a pretty little town, with lovely beaches – are negated by the hassle of having to explain to the council that you were legitimately parked? Or having to pay out a chunk of money because the council doesn’t accept your explanations? Is the prospect of claiming a ‘mere’ £25 worth the indirect costs levelled on the town?
Bureaucrats are a necessary evil. Barmy bureaucrats kill. (And yes, sometimes literally.)
It is episodes like these which wear down trust in government. To have to argue the obvious with a bureaucrat, to have to explain that there is no case or that everyone involved acted in good faith … it’s pointless, it’s soul-destroying and it’s killing us.
And then people wonder why parking wardens and taxmen are regarded as little more than parasitic vermin.