Saturday, 10 February 2018

Everything's Fine

After a consultation with Londoners, Transport for London applied to the Secretary of State of Transport, Chris Grayling, to increase the costs of penalty charge notices (PCNs).

This was specifically to increase fines on the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN) and the Congestion Charging Zone (CCZ) from £130 to £160 (or £65 to £80 for early payment). The kind of contraventions were are talking about relate to parking, bus lane use and moving traffic (disobeying banned turns, yellow boxes etc).

The full consultation report is available here. The report makes some interesting reading. For example, after a review in April 2017, it was found;

"that the volume of PCNs raised for TLRN and Congestion Charge
contraventions in has been rising since 2011. It also found that the rate of repeat offending has been growing during the same period. In 2011 almost 60 percent of CC PCNs and 34 percent of TLRN PCNs were issued to repeat offenders. By 2016 this number increased to 64 per cent for the CC and 38 percent for TLRN PCNs. The rise in contraventions on the TLRN and in the CCZ is a factor that impacts on congestion, traffic speed and traffic flows in London."

That is some serious levels of ignoring the rules by some people! I'd go as far as saying that PCNs will be an operational expense for many people which gets funded by customers or ignored by the rich.

Just 7,390 responses were received from the public businesses in a city of some 8.7 million people. Overall, TfL looked at the comments people made which was summarised as follows;

"7,847 of all comments made by the public and businesses opposed the proposal, 657 comments supporting it and 1,609 comments supported implementing a change but with some vehicles / road user groups included or excluded from the PCN increase"

So there was not much support for an increase in charging from those responding - I'm not sure that comes as much of a surprise!

There were responses from 21 "stakeholders" which are rather revealing. The RAC agreed with the proposals, but thought the increase was too high. The RAC Foundation (which is a separate entity) was opposed, citing poor signage being the main problem.

The AA said that TfL and London Boroughs (the boroughs not being part of the proposed increases! should not collect revenue from PCNs and review contravention "hot spots" to see if engineering measures could improve compliance and first time offenders should receive warning letters.

Westminster council opposed the proposal because of the hardship it would create for residents and businesses. Camden council also opposed because they felt more analysis of the data was needed and there would be inconsistency between borough and TfL charges. You can read the rest for yourself, but there was support from community groups and organisations.

Anyway, TfL decided to proceed with the increase in the charge but was dealt a blow when Grayling objected to the increase. He was quoted in City AM as saying;

"Having considered the evidence carefully, I do not accept that there has been a consistent deterioration in driver behaviour, and consequently I do not agree that it is necessary or reasonable to increase the penalty charge level by 23 per cent. I have come to the view that the proposed TLRN penalty charge level would be excessive, and I have therefore decided to intervene."

The Mayor's Office said;

"Drivers who don’t play by the rules by driving in bus lanes or blocking important routes are increasing congestion, while causing serious hazards for other road users – including cyclists and pedestrians.

Overall, the number of PCNs [penalty charge notices] has increased in recent years, with the evidence showing more offences being committed by repeat offenders. The current fine is simply not enough of a deterrent for a small number of drivers who are increasingly flouting the rules."

Essentially, unless Grayling withdraws his objection, TfL cannot up the charges which City AM suggested would have added £80m of revenue to TfL's business plan between 2016/17 and 2021/22.

On the "revenue" side of things, £80m is peanuts in the bigger scheme of things, but add up enough peanuts and you'll have a bag. It is not really revenue in the conventional sense because money raised through PCNs has to go into transport projects (easy for TfL). We should remember that the government will cut £700m of revenue to TfL from 2018/19 and from 2020, £500m of vehicle excise duty paid in London will be taken out of the Capital. TfL needs every penny it can get.

But, back to the point. I responded in favour to the consultation, largely because I'm not particularly sympathetic to people getting PCNs. Apart from never having received one, I get to hear the excuses people give during my day job and I see some appalling behaviour from where people choose to park to drivers ignoring safety-critical traffic signs.

However, I have some sympathy with some of the more rational sentiments given in response to the consultation and there is a need to change the way we run the approach (which goes beyond London). I would say it is slightly ironic that a traffic authority cannot set it's own charges and localism always seems to be ignored when the political perception is one of "war on the motorist". I suspect Graying has used the opportunity to give Mayor Khan a kick, because that's politics, even though it's detrimental to Londoners.

So, if I didn't have to deal with Grayling, what would I do? Well I'm interested in the impact of the behaviour, so let's look at the issues in what I think should be an increasing level of seriousness and therefore level of PCN. London Councils (representing the boroughs) already has a higher charge for more serious offences, so it's not a new idea!

Overstaying parking bays
Let's be honest, being a few minutes late getting back to your car is not going to kill anyone and so does a PCN for overstaying need to be particularly high? Of course, parking bays are provided as a service and too much overstaying means a loss of turnover of space and so the level of fine needs to be higher than "feeding the meter". Of course, as I said above, this would be one area where a PCN would be an operational business expense to many!

Parking or stopping in a taxi rank
Taxi ranks are there to perform a public transport function, although it is perhaps a little niche in the wider city transport sense. But, they still need some protection and a deterrent from abuse.

Parking in or overstaying loading bays
Loading bays are there to keep a city serviced with goods and if they are not clear when the delivery appears, we'll get the driver stop somewhere less appropriate. Unless you're delivering, keep out and if you've finished your delivery, get out!

Parking on single yellow lines
It's a generalisation, but single yellow lines are either there to stop all-day commuter parking, or they are used to keep key routes clear at peak times. Someone parking on one in a residential street is causing less of a problem than someone parking on a main route, but there is no way of separating the situations in terms of a PCN level.

Perhaps the answer is to reclassify key routes and change the yellow lines to the red lines of a, well, red route. A red route restriction would not allow the stopping to drop off/ pick up passengers which is allowed on a yellow line. Yes, over time, traffic authorities would need to think about the class of road involved.

In London, TfL restrictions are always red route and so perhaps some flexibility could mean that some locations might be suitable for "downgrading" to yellow lines. It should also be noted that blue badge holders are allowed to park for up to three hours for single and double yellow lines (with some variations), so there is a need to act with care.

Parking on double yellow lines
These tend to be used to keep junctions clear, are used one side of the street to keep access clear or on main routes which need to be clear all the time. Double yellow lines are also used to keep fire gates clear or modal filters accessible. We are starting to flirt with safety-critical restrictions here.

Loading bans
One can still stop to drop off/ pick up passengers, but where the are "kerb blips" loading and parking is banned (including blue badge holders). We are now into keeping things properly clear to prevent congestion or danger.

Red routes
Provided with or without red lines, there is no stopping here at all, not even for dropping off or picking up passengers (unless a taxi which applies to many situations as well, but for only as long as is necessary).

Yellow box junctions
Yellow boxes are important features for keeping junctions clear (especially at traffic signals). If enforced (and so obeyed), they can also provide space for emergency drivers to cut through congestion.

Bus lanes and cycle lanes (including advanced stop lines)
Bus lanes are provided to prioritise the moving of people and so those driving in them are potentially gaining an unfair advantage and those parking in them (notwithstanding prevailing parking controls) are blocking efficient transport.

Cycle lanes (mandatory that is) are provided to prioritise the moving of people, but also nominally there to improve safety. Notwithstanding governments refusing to enact the part of the Traffic Management Act 2004 which would allow enforcement of stopping in mandatory cycle lanes, we are definitely in a safety-critical situation.

Parking on footways, cycle tracks and across dropped kerbs
It's a safety and accessibility thing!

School keep clear restrictions
Designed to keep areas near school entrances clear (a no stopping restriction), those who ignore them are adding to the risks children face on the school run - especially on foot.

Crossing zig-zags
Seriously, why would anyone stop or park on these? But they do. The zig-zags are there to keep views of the crossing clear so people can see and be seen by drivers. Safety-critical and needing a large fine and culprits thinking themselves lucky it's a civil PCN and not the police prosecuting them.

Moving traffic contraventions (signed)
No entries, banned turns, one-ways, no motor vehicles, pass on the left arrows at traffic islands etc are safety-critical - even a pedestrian zone has been created to keep drivers out to ensure the safety and comfort of people walking (and cycling if done properly). Throw the book at them I say!

OK, I am not saying we need a specific fine for each of these, but the London Councils' approach is too simple. I might be able to group the issues above into perhaps 4 classes (you might have your own groupings and a different order of seriousness). The issue here is what level of fines are required?

Personally, I wouldn't want to lose any money to a PCN, but at least on TfL's network, there is a 38% level of repeat offences. How much would be a deterrent for stopping on crossing zig-zags - £200? £500? It's a tricky one, because although £500 is a serious lump of money, it is more serious for some than others. There is no way to fine someone according to income with civil enforcement and so perhaps for the more serious matters, the shift has been too much towards traffic authority enforcement than police enforcement (because of how the law was changed for decriminalised enforcement).

For my mind, getting points on your licence for stopping on crossing zig-zags is more of an issue for people because it could ultimately count to loss of licence (although the amount of points being get above 12 is constantly staggering) and higher insurance. At the bottom end of the scale, perhaps a warning letter for parking in a CPZ would be appropriate for a "first offence"; although someone could gain first offences in each traffic authority unless it was a regional or national scheme!

The AA mentioned looking at engineering to prevent contraventions (although surely PCNs could help fund reviews). I have some sympathy for this as well. Street and road layouts should be intuitive and physical layouts are always going to be better than signs'n'paint (although every situation is different). A no entry is a no entry, but some banned turns can be physically prevented or discouraged for example. I'm not sure how engineering would stop people parking on a yellow line though!

Perhaps the issue for TfL here is that they are simply continuing as they have always done and this is no different to anyone else. What perhaps they (and the country) needs to do is to take a step back and look at how we enforce based on the harm caused and set penalties accordingly.

I disagree with Grayling because he shouldn't be interfering in the operation of the City and equally I do not believe for a minute that he would support punitive fines for safety-critical issues in exchange for a light touch at the more annoying end of the offence scale. I also think we need to look at other issues which need to be made enforceable such as stopping on crossings in a traffic jam (make this akin to yellow boxes).

Like the speeding issue I covered last week, PCNs have become popularly expressed as another driver "tax" by the noisy opponents of charging and it is time to re-establish a link between behaviour and consequence. Perhaps if traffic authorities could share data nationally, a repeat crossing zig-zag stopper should lose their licence.


  1. I wonder if repeat offenders should get to a point where they are required to have a black box in their car for a long period of time? They need to know they are being watched all the time.

    Like you I have no sympathy for people breaking the rules.

    1. I guess that's why some of the police operations are being successful as they are not predictably enforcing - going by the data.

  2. Interesting the the option to increase officers/patrols or deploy more automated enforcement has been played down. The increase isn't far ahead of inflation, a change to an indexed penalty basis/rate might be easier to push through than a sudden change.

    1. It's too political like much of what happens on local streets, sadly.

  3. We do have a real problem due to the massive inequality of wealth. To have any effect on the wealthy (quite a lot of them in London!)PCNs would have to be set at a punishingly high level for anyone else. Perhaps it is time to look seriously at a way of relating the level of the fine to income? U

    1. This does happen with criminal law, but with the fixed penalty, civil enforcement approach we have no way of doing this. Would also massively increase work as each case would have to be reviewed - perhaps the more serious cases (eg parking on crossings) should have a civil points process?