What can we do about parking fines?
1981. That's the earliest record I have of somebody being charged for parking for too long at a service station.
The reason that's an important date is that, fast forward to 2020, and we see more complaints from people who were charged for overstaying than about anything else that they do.
These people are often outraged, and try to call for a boycott, not realising that almost every service station in the country is doing this, and has been for 40 years. You'd need quite a boycott.
Since 1981 it has become more intense. Automated enforcement has replaced on-site guards who might have quietly told you to be on your way. The task is outsourced to external companies who make a huge profit in exchange for doing the dirty work.
There is a legitimate case to be made for ensuring enough parking is available, and for preventing week-long car sharing. Automated enforcement means that these excuses are trotitng out even when they are irrelevant, such as in the middle of a pandemic where the car parks are deserted.
I understand why people feel hard done by. You're feeling tired, you've been told to stop. You buy a coffee and rest in an empty car park for three hours. Parking charges are not on your mind.
Those of us who live in cities are surely well aware that you can't park anywhere without terms and conditions applying. There is no free parking without strings attached.
The conditions aren't exactly difficult to find. They have big signs at the entrance, around the car park, in the toilets and on the dining tables. The signs are there.
What more can we do for these people who claim that they have never seen the signs? We could paint them day-glow pink and have them speak to you, but the fact remains that people won't see them unless they are looking for them.
For once I don't claim to have any answers. What we are looking for is something that goes against human nature.
When we stop for a break, our eyes filter out all the billboards, brand logos and other customers. Our eyes will only see what we are looking for: the toilets and maybe a coffee shop.
That's one of the reasons why the Westmorland business model has done so well: you can take down all the gaudy advertising and most people wouldn't notice the difference.
That's a chapter for another day. Likewise I would like to make a case for getting rid of automated enforcement and bringing back the car park warden, but then you would be pushing up costs and losing a major revenue stream.
Do we really need to be doing that, just to help drivers who aren't reading signs?
Johnathan Randall is the editor of Motorway Services Online.