Posted: 13th April 2011 | 5 Comments »
Post-ruling update: 27.04.11
Bad and potentially good news…
Regrettably, my concerns over weaknesses in the way the case was put against the use of Traffic Act powers to develop a pay-by-phone bike parking tax scheme were well founded.
The Appeal Court decided that the earlier High Court ruling should stand and that WCC had used Traffic Act powers ‘legitimately’, and therefore, any other UK Council can now use those powers and this business blueprint of a scheme to do the same in their part of the country. However, although I still believe that the original ruling was wrong, its being upheld was not a failing of the Appeal Court – and for reasons I suggested in my previous post.
Whatever. Most critically, this judgement effectively says that for now at least, all UK local transport authorities can use Traffic Act powers to impose new charges for on-street bike parking in order to ‘terminate’ distinctions between cars and motorbikes or scooters.
And although it is far less significant, it is also unfortunate that the decision I took to report my views on all this as in the blog below, without mentioning the NTBPT Campaign group or it’s Chairman Warren Djanogly, who brought the case to court, it has been misconstrued in some quarters as an indication that I undervalue the extraordinary work and efforts made by all concerned with what has been an exceptional single issue campaign.
As a matter of fact, my decision was based purely on a desire to publish a report that could be read by as wide a group of people as possible with the lowest prospect of being dismissed as biased in favour of the NTBPT. And, for the record, whilst I have disagreed with some of the protest tactics and saddened by some of the things said in the course of the campaign, I continue to have great admiration for the courage and tenacity of Chairman Warren – and the extraordinary range of supporters he has inspired to engage in legitimate protest against what I still see as an abuse of powers that are granted to improve conditions for all road users.
The potential good news is that the true legitimacy of the use of such powers may be subject to further examination and with greater focus on the real core issues of principle than they have so far. The latest news from the NTBPT is that a new QC has offered to take the case on to Europe.
A crucial change in the way motorbikes and scooters are seen and may be treated by local authorities in the UK is imminent…
It will be triggered by three Appeal Court judges who will decide whether to overturn a High Court ruling that Westminster City Council used Traffic Act powers lawfully – to impose a new tax for on-street parking of solo motorbikes in bays that were already established for that purpose. That ruling was in my view deeply flawed, as I have said before, but I regret to say now that flaws in the way the appeal case was put, seem likely to allow the Appeal Court Judges to let the previous ruling stand.
My account of proceedings is offered later, but first I think it useful to explain the context and why this issue is far more significant for the future of powered two wheelers (PTW) use in the UK than it may appear on the surface.
The key issue at stake is whether UK councils can or should treat demand for parking these congestion busting machines in similar ways to other single-track vehicles like bicycles, or like motorised twin-track vehicles including cars, vans and trucks.
The issue was brought to a head by a controversial ‘permanent’ pay-by-phone bike parking scheme pioneered by Westminster City Council (WCC) that came into force in January 2010, which imposes new fees or triggers for PCN fines for on-street solo motorcycle parking in bays that were already there and paid for.
But opponents claim, quite rightly in my view, that WCC have used Traffic Management Act powers to introduce a revenue generating scheme that has no real traffic management benefit, and is therefore not a legitimate use of such powers – and is just a means to extract a new ‘motoring tax’ from the thousands of scooter and motorbike riders who need to park in central London.
Pros and Cons
In simple terms, some people think that because PTWs have a motor, they should pay to park as car drivers do. Some influential members of the motorcycling lobby broadly agreed with that view when this scheme was first proposed back in 2008, and thought that as it was ‘only a quid or so’, it wasn’t worth fighting over. Others on the UK biking scene were quite drawn by councilor’s promises that the revenues raised would be used to improve amenities for all PTW riders – and to significantly improve on-street bike parking in the centre of town…
Anyway, more importantly now, at least one of the three judges seemed to believe that riders should pay just as car drivers do, and that belief seemed to me to be firmly held from start to finish of the proceedings.
Conversely, others, including me, think that because PTWs are single track vehicles like bicycles, and both modes help users to alleviate congestion problems, but use of all twin tracked vehicles make jams worse, so PTW riders should not pay extra new fees to use tiny allocations of on-street parking bays – on top of road tax and fuel duty that cyclists do not pay – and especially as the solo M/C bays in question here were already established for that purpose.
But the biggest problem arising from plans to treat PTWs more like cars than bicycles as far as parking charge schemes are concerned is far worse than the prospect of an additional cost to park a motorbike or scooter. The pay-by-phone scheme in this case is designed for use by any UK council that might be interested in a new source of cash from riders. But, and this is a crucial but.
In order for local authorities to ‘justify’ the imposition of extra fees and fines for bike parking, they must increase the extent to which they stress negative views of scooters and motorbikes and/or demonise PTW use in the same way they do with cars, vans and trucks.
Basically, after spending two days at the Appeal Court watching the Judges and looking for clues about their reactions to the case before them, I suspect that they will not feel inclined to overrule the previous ruling. Obviously, I hope to be wrong about the outcome but there were, in my opinion, critical weaknesses in the way the case against the ruling was made by the QC acting for the appellant. And, despite my best efforts to persuade the QC to do so, two crucial points were just not made at all.
In essence, the appellant claimed there was no demonstrable traffic management benefit from introducing new fees to park bikes in on-street bays. Conversely, the council claimed there was an “ever increasing demand for motorcycle parking” and that “measures of restraint”, including new charges, could be justified to ‘manage’ that demand. The court then heard that the council had no evidence of ‘ever increasing demand’, and cabinet papers stated that demand for bike parking had not risen prior to the permanent scheme coming into force in January 2010, or since.
Traffic Management Acts require a ‘traffic management benefit’ in order to justify any new fee scheme, and tangible revenue raising through subcontracted services contravenes the Traffic Management and Local Government Acts. So, Traffic Act Orders cannot be lawfully used to impose what is effectively just a new tax. And, as a matter of fact, although it was not mentioned in court, this was especially critical in this case as Westminster council had already built up a ‘surplus’ of around half a million pounds from an experimental version of the scheme, prior to its’ decision to introduce a new ‘permanent’ bike parking fees scheme.
The argument on the first day led to a claim that the council couldn’t use Traffic Act powers lawfully to charge bikers to park in on-street bays. However, one of the judges did not find this argument “attractive”, and seemed to prefer a simpler view; if car drivers have to pay to park on public highways, motorcycle riders should too. This led her to voice an opinion that even though the council’s actions may not have been ‘entirely within the law’, they ‘ought to have the power to charge for on-street bike parking if they wanted to’. In turn, that led to a suggestion that the preceding High Court ruling may have been right as it said that Westminster were entitled to use Traffic Act Orders to “terminate discrimination between cars and motorcycles”.
On the second day, I suggested to the lawyers that the point should be made that comparing motorcycle parking with car parking should be balanced by a comparison with bicycle parking as well. Discrimination is applied to demands for bicycle parking in contrast to car parking, in that drivers pay and cyclists do not. Crucially, the High Court ruled that WCC were entitled to use Traffic Act powers to impose new fees to “terminate” discrimination between PTWs and Cars. But that ruling completely ignores a crucial reason to maintain such discrimination – namely that bicycles contribute less to congestion problems as they are single track vehicles, whereas cars vans and lorries are twin-tracked vehicles. As a matter of fact, PTWs are also single-track vehicles, so there are extremely good reasons to treat them differently to cars, and in similar ways to bicycles. Unfortunately, bicycles were never mentioned during the two days, so that point did not get any consideration.
Another key reason for the permanent scheme to be deemed unlawful was that the entire ‘consultation’ about it was skewed in a way that was made clear in the witness statement I had submitted in the original High Court hearing. Throughout all consultations, the council said that the main reason for a permanent new fees scheme was to pay for improvements to motorcycle parking in the borough. Equally importantly, they said that ‘demand management’ or ‘restraining’ motorcycle use was not a reason for a permanent version of the scheme – and the consultees they told this to included MAG, the BMF and a representative of the Motor Cycle Industry Association in a meeting that I arranged with the Cabinet member responsible at the time in June 2009, and this fact was also mentioned in the statement I submitted to the court.
Crucially, the High Court ruling in June 2010, said that the council had imposed the permanent fees scheme lawfully because the main reason for it was “to improve on-street parking availability for motorcyclists”. But, in fact, when the official ‘reasons’ for the new ‘permanent’ scheme were published, on Thursday 22nd January 2010, and came into force four days later on Monday 25th, there was no mention of any improvements. Instead, the only reason for “small” charges from then on was due to “ever increasing pressure on Westminster’s kerbside space” and “motorcyclists’ increasing use of and demand for these limited resources”.
Put simply, all consultees had been misled by being told the official reasons for the permanent scheme was to pay for improvements, when in the end, at the eleventh hour, it was confirmed in the Statement of Reasons for the new ‘permanent’ scheme that officially, the new fees were only for ‘demand management’.
However, and potentially critically for the outcome of the appeal, that point was not made to the court. Claims that the consultation was skewed were based on an argument that the council said the fees were to manage ever increasing demand for bike parking, but had no evidence to show that demand had increased.
Three Appeal Court judges are now considering the case against a permanent version of bike parking fees scheme that still looks more like a tax to many riders than a measure to manage traffic better.
However, and notwithstanding the strength of the full case against the legitimacy of using Traffic Act powers in the way that WCC did, given the way that case was put in the Court of Appeal, I have serious doubts about whether the High Court ruling will be overturned, and think on balance that it the Appeal will be dismissed. As you may imagine, in this case, I would be absolutely delighted to be wrong.
Posted: 23rd December 2010 | No Comments »
As 201o draws to a close the prospects for those who ride or might choose to ride a motorcycle or scooter in Britain are mixed, so it is impossible to say for sure if things will get better or worse in 2011. But there is a growing consensus in the scientific community that should stop so called ‘Santa Sceptics’ or ‘Reindeer can fly Deniers’ in their tracks.
First, after issuing a politically correct health warning that a picture at the bottom of my blog may be sexist, I’ll share a two view snapshot of the future for riders and could be riders. On the one hand, as money gets tighter for most people next year in Britain there is an ever greater need for our policy makers to enable those with the skill and courage to ride, to do so as safely and freely as possible. On the other hand, a handful of greedy Burghers in Westminster City Council are hellbent on defending their pay-by-phone bike parking tax on the grounds that it is quite reasonable to use new fees for on-street bike parking to try and put people off riding in the centre of London. And, of course, if they can get away with using Traffic Management Act powers to impose a new source of road user revenue, other councils with far less cash than WCC are sure to be tempted to use their cunning and highly profitable scheme…
But there may be more important things for all riders to consider during Yuletide. One of these is a growing consensus in the world’s scientific community that the so called ‘Santa Sceptics’ or ‘Reindeer can fly Deniers’ have failed to see or accept an ‘Inconvenient Truth’. ‘The Science’ of such things clearly shows that claims by sceptics and deniers about the Global Warmth that Santa spreads throughout the world at this time of year are wrong. ‘The Science’ now clearly shows how claims that Santa and his Reindeer can’t really fly can not only damage comforting beliefs for innocent children and their parents, but these claims are irresponsibly wrong and create terrible confusion about what can happen to us if we’re naughty not good.
Dr. Larry Silverberg, Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University has been leading pioneering research at the North Pole which confirms the inconvenient truth about Santa flight. “Santa is using technologies that we are not yet able to recreate in our own labs,” and he goes on to explain how Santa’s sleigh is “far more advanced” than any modern form of air transportation.
“The truss of the sleigh, including the runners, are made of a honeycombed titanium alloy that is very lightweight and 10 to 20 times stronger than anything we can make today,” Silverberg says. The truss can also morph, thereby altering its shape to improve its aerodynamics which allows it to “cut through the air more efficiently”. The runners on the sleigh have ‘flexure’ allows them to ‘tuck in’ and be more aerodynamic during flight, and then spread out to provide stability for landing on various surfaces such as steeply pitched roofs.” Says the world leading scientists.
However, in my ceaseless quest for balance in my bloggings I have to point out that this particular Prof and his disciples may be talking and believing bollocks. Oh Dear! And to offer an alternative theory, in the name of balance again, there are some who reckon that Santa is not transported by reindeer at all – but actually gets round the world on a bike.
Some say he rides in a gang of Santas on turbocharged Honda 90s. Some say he works alone on a supercharged scooter. Some even say that he is a she – and she uses a chopper with super-human aplomb.
As ever, I will leave it to you to decide what you choose to believe. I also hope y’all have a Cool Yule and Great New Year with those who are happy to ride with you…
Posted: 11th September 2010 | 4 Comments »
I got excited news from a prolific writer about train and bicycle stuff this morning. It came from Christian Wolmar right, who is self-styled as ‘Britain’s leading transport commentator’. We’ve met on various occasions and although I haven’t always agreed with him, I’ve often found his passionately expressed views interesting – and that he is generally quite an an affable chap.
But now he has written an “angry” open letter to Norman Baker, Lib Dem MP left, who is our new Transport Minister responsible for Regional and Local Transport…
It turns out that dear old Wolmar has got his knickers well twisted by rumours that a £140m fund to run a body he is director of, at a cost to the taxpayer that began at £5m and increased to £60m per year, is about to get the chop. The body concerned is called Cycling England and Wolmar asks Norman some searching questions. These include:
What is Norman Baker for? What is the point of you being in the Department of Transport? Then, with no more beating about the bush, our new minister is asked this.
“Are you a fig-leaf for the most reactionary policies to come out of the Marsham Street since the days of Nicholas Ridley?”
Cripes! I thought. That’s quite a question to ask a guy who, whatever you may think of him, at least had the guts to voice serious concerns over the exceptionally odd death of Dr David Kelly – who may have known far too much for his own good about the weapons of mass destruction that ‘justified’ the Iraq war – but weren’t actually there. Anyway, Wolmar also tells Norman that Cycling England is facing the axe “for the crime of being a quango – when it could quite easily not be one”.
In response to all this excitement and rumours of funding cuts, the bicycle industry has quite understandably “raised its voice” in support of Cycling England. But whatever the rights and wrongs of all this may be it is set in a tough situation in Britain where spending cuts amounting to £6.2bn need to be made with £683m to be hacked from the Transport Ministers’ budget.
Now I remember passing the good old cycling proficiency test and would love to see it continue to help youngsters learn how to ride a bicycle safely. But I am left with a number of puzzling questions. First, do we really need to spend £60m of public funds per year to do so? Secondly, is an angry letter from the nations’ ‘leading transport commentator’ likely to encourage a Transport Minister to keep a body like Cycling England safe from the budget slasher’s knife?
To be honest, I have no idea what the answer to the first question is but it does seem odd that the costs of running the quango that runs a proficiency test should grow from £5m to £60m in two or three years.
As to the second question, I will leave you to decide for yourself. But I offer a couple of illustrations to show how wide the gap can be between the opinions of prominent figures who comment about cycling. There can be no doubt that Bojo, London’s larger-than-life Conservative Mayor is a great fan of bicycling. But his fellow Tory peer, Lady Sharples is right at the top of the premier league of Baroness bicycle bashers.
Now, whatever comes of this challenge to save Cycling England and all the worthy work it does, there is one for for sure. There is no need to worry about saving the future of a government funded body that gets £60m a year to do similar worthy work to promote the training and testing of scooter or motorbike riders. And that’s for the simple reason that such a body is a bit like Blair’s WMD in Iraq, it does not exist.
Nevertheless, concerned as I am about such iniquities, I am not a bicycle basher like the Tory baroness – or in anyway anti-cyclist. Actually, in my humble opinion, cyclists and riders of of motorbikes or scooters have to key things in common. First, we ride single track machines on roads and help cut congestion like no twin tracked vehicles can. And secondly, all single-track machine riders are vulnerable to attack by people in or out of big tin boxes with wheels on – and we deserve as much help and protection as we can get. But going back to dear old Wolmar’s angry letter, I have to say that it never ceases to amaze me how much some fans of cycling will demand – even in times when everyone is facing cuts.
Posted: 7th February 2010 | 5 Comments »
As GMTV warned on their morning news and this slideshow shows, the ‘gathering’ demonstration ride organised by the NTBPT and mentioned in my previous post, did indeed bring traffic to a standstill in central London. You can also see a nice little film of these goings on here. Ironically, these ‘amateur’ protesters took a leaf out of the professionals’ latest book on high-tech road user tax extraction systems – as written by Messrs Gilchrist, Chalkley & Slick-Willy pay-by-phone merchants Verrus – & the ‘gathering’ was triggered by simultaneous multiple text alert. Cripes and gadzooks!
So, within minutes of the text going out, hundreds of peaceful but angered riders suddenly gathered at Trafalgar Square and began riding round it during a lunch time demo.
The most astonishing thing about the event though – apart from the fact that there seems to be nothing that the authorities could do to stop it happening – was to see how incredibly quickly a relatively small number of riders could bring all the roads into and out of Trafalgar Square to a gridlocked halt. As a fellow riders rights champion, BMF Chairman Anna Zee said to me once we’d all arrived at Milbank. “It was incredible to see what a huge impact a relatively small number of riders can have within three minutes of gathering together and starting to ride perfectly legally round a small but critically central roundabout…”
Anyway, once the protesters had made their point of protest about the bike parking tax plan being pushed by Westminster, the riders all moved on in appropriately dignified fashion through Whitehall and Parliament Square and were joined by over a 100 more to rally outside the Tory HQ at Milbank.
A key point for the demo was to encourage the Conservative party leaders and key members to think about the huge damage that one of it’s flagship council’s (Westminster City Council no less) is doing to their reputation by trying to impose a new Stealth Tax on riders of powered two wheelers.
Currently, the word from Tory central office is that they regard this attempt to pioneer an unprecedented extra tax against a key group of vulnerable road users as a ‘Local Matter’. Correspondingly, I have it from the highest levels inside Tory HQ that this unprecedented plan to create a new M/C parking tax and spread it across the UK is something that party leaders are not going to bother about or to consider in a broader context. But I’d add, yet.
In my view, which I have shared with their top transport policy adviser and a couple of Tory MPs who were prepared to listen so far, this could be a very grave mistake unless they think again about a plan to impose an extra new tax on UK riders. Especially as just about all of the million plus motorbike and scooter riders in Britain also just happen to be VOTERS as the RAV campaign is beginning to explain in time for the next election.
It is also crucial for me to point out that it is not just the Tories who are seeming to hide behind the excuse that ‘this is a local issue’ while turning a blind eye to bad or unjustifiable policy decisions to create new revenue streams via ‘motoring’ taxes. After all, the Labour party and Lib Dem central office have also all held back from anything remotely close to condemning this stealth tax for what it is
But sadly, up until now my suggestions and indeed those from others in the motorcycling community have fallen on stony ground. Nevertheless, there is also some very good news for all concerned with treating riders as part of the solution to many congestion problems instead of seeing them just as a target for a bit more ‘motoring’ tax.
I learned late on Friday that the Office of Fair Trading OFT has reconsidered it’s earlier attempt to try and pass the buck for investigation of claims that Westminster have bent or broken rules to ensure trading is done fairly. After a great deal of work on submissions to the OFT by Graham of NTBPT and a couple of tweaks that I added to his latest contact with them their new position looks like this:
“Due to the complexity of the issues you have raised your case has been passed to our Preliminary Investigations Team and has been allocated thirty working days for research and response.”
Well done to all concerned I say – and round 1 to the NTBPT!
Posted: 28th January 2010 | 5 Comments »
I frequently walk by this M/C parking bay, but the scene I saw this week got me thinking about rules. Who makes ‘em, what for – in theory and really – and who has to abide by The Rules and who can get away with flouting them…
The first thing that started me thinking in that direction was the surprise of seeing how full this bay was on a dark cold drizzly night – having approached it from behind the sign. And, I guess I should explain that the bay is usually fairly empty these days, but not because riders in London don’t go out in the cold or at night. In fact this bay used to be rammed full to overflowing pretty much 24/7. But that all stopped when Westminster began their ‘experimental’ scheme to try and force all scooter and motorbike riders to pay a new parking tax – which they did by changing the rules in all of the few M/C bays in the central area of London where the council make the rules. And to keep the picture clear despite the murky photos, bays like this one that were designated for bike parking without risk of fines for ‘illegal’ parking, are inadequately scattered amongst the acres of road space that are covered by parking rules which are to ‘manage traffic’ in theory. But in reality of course, the main reason for these rules is to keep the money flowing in from the Cash Cow that parking enforcement has become.
Anyway, it is also clear from these pictures, and loads more here, that the scallywags who have defaced the new scheme signs have broken some rules in a rebellious effort to invalidate the enforcement of a bike parking tax in that location. And I gather that this particular type of signage customisation/ vandalism is called ‘Rathboning’ as these acts are attributed to a mysterious ‘Captain Rathbone’ – and a loose collection of pirates who keep doing these dastardly deeds. However, as I said before, I am not in a position to condone such rule-breaking for various reasons, not least of which is my concern that such activities could harm the reputation of ‘bikers’ and scooterists in London. But what I can and will say is that these Rathboners are not the only bunch involved with this new riders’ tax who seem to be breaking rules.
I have seen the full range of formalised complaints against the pioneers of this new bike parking tax scheme, and the evidence to back such claims. Most of this has been gathered and submitted by a dedicated few in the NTBPT. But the claims and evidence that triggered an EU Commission investigation has come from very big international players in the parking enforcement business who are very aggrieved by what they claim is very serious rule-breaking indeed. So, from what I’ve seen, I can say that all sorts of rules may well have been bent or broken, in order to get this new tax imposed for the moment on the central streets of London.
But now it seems we’re at a point where reactions to rules and rule-breaking are getting complicated. Having seen the initial rounds of formal responses from the organisations who are supposed to investigate claims about rule breaking and take action to stop it, or chuck out anything that is wrongly achieved by it, it looks like some of them are trying to wriggle out of doing their job. Currently, it would seem that the Office of Fair Trading is suggesting that it would be best if they let the EU Commissioners investigate complaints that the bike park tax pioneers at WCC may have flouted rules to ensure that trading in Britain is actually fair. Frankly I’m not convinced about that but not being an expert on fair trading laws I’m not qualified to say, but I gather that the NTBPT are in touch with bods who can.
Currently, the OFT are not alone in resisting calls for action. Other official bodies who have been asked to investigate potential rule-breaking behind the scenes by the bike tax pioneers, are also trying to buy some time before getting on with investigations. And, in a way this is understandable as they are run by civil servants in outfits like like the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Audit Commission, where all will be wondering if they’ll still have a job after the next election.
So, for now, it is clear that some rules about defacing signs are being broken on the street by individuals who feel that such actions are their best or perhaps only path left for expressing their views about a new bike parking tax. What is far less clear though is whether those who have made new rules to tax riders have broken even more behind the facade of Westminster City Hall. We will also have to wait and see if the public servants who are responsible for investigating rule breakers do their job as well and fairly as they should. Personally, I very much hope they do in due course. But I will not be holding my breath in the mean time – and will be doing what I can to encourage all concerned to respect the rules that deserve respecting most…