Friday, 8 November 2013

McTrapped! How ParkingEye arrange signage to create entrapment zones (Example: McDonalds Bridgend)

The Prankster never got to use his photographs in court, owing to ParkingEye's LPC Law gun-for-hire finding he brought his water pistol to court rather than his RPG, and asking for an adjournment.

Rather than waste them, The Prankster thought it would be instructive to show the general public how ParkingEye cleverly use signage to maximise their profits.

ParkingEye charge motorists for breach of contract, so in order to do that they obviously need to have a contract in the first place. The accepted way of doing this in the parking industry is to have signs dotted around the car park. Ample signage is usually enough to convince the appeals service, POPLA and also county court judges that a contract is in place.

However, there are ways and means of arranging signage which pays lip service to the standards, but which clearly create traps for even vigilant motorists. Unfortunately, if they are not on the ball when appealing, ParkingEye's template claims that signage is 'ample and visible' may be sufficient to fool a POPLA adjudicator or even a judge.

Here is the example from McDonald's Bridgend. The map shows the position of the signs on the day the photographs were taken.

Car parks should have entrance signage which has a mandatory format. The purpose of this is to clearly show motorists they are entering a car park where terms and conditions apply. The motorist is then alerted to seek out other signs which more clearly define the conditions. The Prankster has never yet seen a ParkingEye car park which complies with this mandatory format, but presumably there are a few dotted around the country. In any case, as The Prankster helps motorists who have been sent Parking charges, and has seen a large number of non-compliant ParkingEye car parks, perhaps this shows that mandatory signage works and that charges do not tend to get issued in car parks where the signage is up to scratch.

If true, this would be a problem for ParkingEye because bringing their signage up to scratch would cost a huge amount in lost revenue. ParkingEye negotiated with the British Parking Association, along with other Parking Operators, to redefine the word 'mandatory' and give an exemption on entrance signage until 2015. ParkingEye have now cleverly offloaded the problem to Capita by selling out to them for £57 million. Capita may well find ParkingEye's income falls once signage is brought up to the required standard, but no doubt ParkingEye pointed this out to them in the due diligence phase and this is all built into the forecasts.

It is noteworthy that some of ParkingEye's known big money spinners, such as Fistral Beach in Newquay, have non-compliant entrance signage. The Prankster sees many complaints that the signage at Fistral Beach is not up to scratch, and this view has been endorsed by POPLA who have upheld appeals on signage, especially during the hours of darkness.

Anyway, back to McDonalds, Bridgend.

Appendix B of the BPA code of practice describes entry sign requirements. Signs 1 and 2 are nearest the entrance and should fulfill the role of entrance signs. However all signs on the site are identical.The two entrance signs are not compliant. They do not have a large 'P' symbol, do not contain the suggested texts and are too cluttered. The drive has to move their eyes more than 10% to see the signs.

There are therefore no entrance signs in the mandatory format stipulated in the British Parking Association Code of Practice (CoP) 18.2 and appendix B, and as the site was apparently installed after the CoP came into effect, no good reason for these not to be in place. The purpose of entrance signage and the mandatory format is to provide a clear visible notification to the driver that a car park with parking conditions is being entered.

As the driver enters the site, sign 1 is enclosed in foliage and over the other side of the road from the vehicle, requiring the eyes to move more than 10%. At certain times of the day, it is invisible because of the sun. When the picture was taken, the sign was not completely hidden by foliage. However sign 6 was and there is therefore good reason to believe the site is not maintained well and that sign 1 is also from time to time not visible.

Sign 2 is situated behind a bush and so is invisible to motorists except at the very instant of passing. The sign is situated right at the bottom of its pole. There is no good reason to do this other to hide the sign from motorists behind the bush. At certain times of the day, the sign is additionally invisible because of the sun. This sign is on the driver’s side and would therefore be expected to be the main sign used to draw attention that parking rules are in force.

Sign 3 is in the parked order bay and therefore not in a place where drivers are likely to park for a long time anyway. It is not visible when entering the site. 

The other signs 4, 5, 6 are either too far away to see or are obscured by the building. As mentioned, sign 6 is obscured by foliage.

Additionally, sign 6 is sited  in the drive through area of the site. There is no parking available here, and no possibility of parking. The only reason for placing a sign here is to claim the site has 6 signs, while placing one sign in a place it will never be seen. 

There is apparently a sign 7 also sited in the drive through area, which The Prankster did not notice. This is similarly a bizarre place to site a parking notice and can only be there to pay lip service for a requirement to have a certain amount of signs on site.

The signage therefore creates two entrapment zones as shown on the map. Drivers parking in either of these two zones do not pass any clearly visible signs and therefore cannot be expected to realise they are in a car park where terms and conditions apply. There is only one place to go for drivers; the McDonalds. Drivers will therefore leave their car, and go into McDonalds where they still encounter no signage. The lower entrapment zone is the closest parking to McDonalds and therefore the one most drivers will instinctively choose.

The signage is therefore in breach of the CoP 18.3 which requires the signs to be visible at the time of parking  or leaving their vehicle.

A Youtube video showing the drivers eye view entering the car park and parking is here.

A Youtube video showing the 360% view of the car park is here. The sign behind the bush is 4 seconds in.

There is a third entrapment zone which is not shown on the map. There are no signs in the disabled parking area. There should be low signs so that disabled motorists can read them without leaving the car. Creating an entrapment zone for disabled motorists is especially cruel. 

Presumably ParkingEye have car park design specialists who know exactly what they are doing when designing signage placement. This leaves the inescapable conclusion that the entrapment zones have been carefully and cleverly designed by ParkingEye to pay lip-service to signage requirements while having the chance to entrap as many motorists as possible into paying parking charges. The alternative is that their car park design specialists have no idea what they are doing and are not competent to do the job.

The signage is at direct odds with the landowner’s car park management requirements. The manager at McDonalds said that the site had a problem where motorists would park all day and car share into Bristol. McDonalds therefore does not intend the car park to entrap motorists, and generate revenue for ParkingEye, but rather to deter all day parkers.

McDonalds has signs installed inside the restaurant clearly explaining that genuine customers can stay longer than 1.5 hours. Unfortunately the main sign has been thoughtlessly placed on an automatic door and is therefore never visible unless it is pointed out to you; the door opens as you approach hiding the sign. The other sign is hidden away by the toilets.

To bring the signage up to the required standard, the following changes should be made
1.       Change entrance signage 1 and 2 to be compliant with the British Parking Association code of practice.
2.       Consider pruning back foliage extensively so that sign 1 is never hidden
3.       Re-site sign 2 so it is higher up pole and not hidden by bush
4.       Sign 3 is satisfactory
5.       Add a double facing sign in the lower entrapment zone so that it is visible to drivers parking in both directions
6.       Add a sign in the upper entrapment zone so that it is visible to drivers
7.       Signs 4 and 5 are satisfactory
8.       Add a low sign in the disabled parking area so that disabled drivers can see it without leaving their vehicle
9.       Prune foliage so sign 6 is visible
10.   Visually check signs once a week to ensure they are not hidden by foliage and keep a written record of the checks.
11.   Add 1 or preferably 2 signs at the entrance to the building so the all motorists see them while walking in

12.   Resite the signs inside the building explaining that genuine customers can have parking charges cancelled so they are visible. Add more signs to ensure coverage. Redesign the signs so they are clearly visible, and consider adding universally recognised icons such as a big ‘P’ so that customers can see from a distance the sign is regarding parking conditions. Reword the signs to be more readable.

Happy Parking

The Parking Prankster

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