The Battle between Improving Compliance and Reputational Harm: could issuing Warning Notices for first offences be a solution?

There are lots of things you do for the first time you can never forget… and one thing many people remember in vivid detail is their first parking ticket. Receiving a parking ticket is universally a bad experience, and animosity over the injustice can persist indefinitely.

For the purposes of this article, a survey was commissioned to establish attitudes to first parking tickets received by members of the public.

Of those surveyed, over 50% of respondents said they had an extremely negative memory of their first parking ticket and many people left detailed accounts of their grievances from tickets they received over a decade ago. Only 10% of respondents felt their ticket was fair.

The negative feeling for some was profound; 43% of respondents have never returned to the location where they received their first ticket.

This clearly demonstrates the issuance of a parking ticket can cause significant reputational damage and strong emotions of injustice which impact the future revenue potential for the landowner and nearby businesses.

Then to offset this, 80% of respondents said they would have felt more positively about the authority which issued their first parking ticket if it had been a Warning Notice instead.

Additionally, of those who said they had never returned to the location where they had received their first parking ticket, 80% of those respondents said they would have returned if they had instead received a Warning Notice.

On the face of it, these statistics present a strong case for introducing Warning Notices for first offences. Does the opinion of the wider public tell the whole story, though?

The primary purpose of parking management operations is to improve compliance and protect landowners from motorists not fairly using the land and adhering to the established rules. The question posed is where the line should be drawn between maximising compliance and reducing the reputational harm of issuing tickets which are perceived to be unfair.

What is a Warning Notice?

Today, Warning Notices are discretionary and typically issued for lesser offences or first offences to demonstrate poor or non-compliant parking has been noted by the parking authority.

The intention is to educate the motorist in an effort to prevent non-compliance in the future with the risk of further enforcement action should this behaviour continue.

Many of the respondents to the survey suggested their first parking ticket represented a harsh, expensive lesson which they believe was disproportionate for their offence, and they would have been influenced by a Warning Notice to not continue offending in the future.

Warning Notices have been implemented by certain authorities in the past, and the primary opposition to their wider adoption is their perceived ineffectiveness. It is considered to invite predatory parking behaviour from ill-intentioned motorists and have little-to-no impact on compliance rates.

What do people in parking say about Warning Notices?

Investigating the viability of implementing a Warning Notice to be issued for first offences led to interviews with two prominent members of the parking community: Craig Taylor, Strategic Parking Manager of Cornwall Council and James De Savary, Managing Director of Napier Parking.

Both Craig and James have experience of issuing Warning Notices in their time working in parking, giving perspectives from a local authority and a private parking operator.

A point raised by both was the likelihood of fairness and equality in enforcement being a barrier. Craig noted: “One of the issues that does arise is differential enforcement. At which stage do you switch from Warning Notices to PCNs?

“For example, if we had a grace period of a month where we were not issuing PCNs for a particular restriction, what do we do about the person who takes us to the tribunal and says ‘my mate next-door was given a warning notice and I received a PCN.’

“I think the Independent Adjudicator would have a field day. It would need to be carefully managed.”

James was passionate in his response to using Warning Notices in sensitive situations and recalled his experience dealing with issuing Warning Notices at the outset of the COVID-19 national health emergency.

His team at Napier Parking were called into action near the beginning of lockdown in London. Clearly, at this time, parking spaces were invaluable to local residents. “Those using parking spaces without a right to park were a significant menace and this delicate situation needed to be managed carefully,” moving to suggest that Warning Notices were judged initially to be the best option.

“The issue was that all residents were at home, rather than say 40% being at work or away at any one time. So residents needed their parking spaces – they really needed them. People had close family who had entitlement to use designated visitor bays, as they were in a support bubble for the vulnerable, and these spaces were illegally taken.”

This situation led to people parking in dangerous places, James explained: “cars were then spilling out onto controlled areas, such as double yellow lines, footpaths, pavements, paved areas, cycling lanes… it got seriously bad.”

This clearly necessitated urgent enforcement action to be taken to clear these areas of illegally parked vehicles. There have been several high-profile examples this year of ambulances being unable to attend emergency callouts due to illegally parked cars blocking access. James described his approach to the unique challenge presented, where some cars parked in this manner had nowhere to go.

“We were very nervous about reputational damage, and we looked carefully for any signs of vulnerability or evidence of emergency workers before taking any action.”

James and Napier Parking decided to initially issue warning notices to these motorists, pleading for a change in behaviour to allow those with a sincere need to park and a right to park to do so.

Sadly, James reported “The warning notices were routinely ignored. The hope was issuing a warning notice would mean the motorist would consider their actions in the context of being a member of the national community pulling together in the face of a national health emergency.

I was disappointed to see the same vehicles re-offending on a daily basis and that the warning notices had absolutely no effect.

“We carefully created a bespoke warning notice, which described how we did not recognise their right to park, and they were parked on private land and please remedy the situation.

“We were really shocked at how people did not take any notice of this polite notice. On the next patrol, we would go out, and these vehicles had just been moved to another area where they continued to park illegally.”

“We really thought people would appreciate it, and I have no doubt some people did. But did it help? I don’t think it did.”

What would be the impact of issuing a Warning Notice for first-time offences?

From a data sample of two million cases over a year, across the private sector and public sector parking operations, it was established that 67% of tickets issued were for first-time offenders. This means issuing Warning Notices for first-time offences, if the slate was cleaned on an annual basis, would write-off a significant majority of tickets issued across the country.

Automatically concerns have to be raised at this prospect; parking operators would be forced to reduce the size of their operations by over two-thirds to reflect the severe drop in revenue. The knock-on effect would also be that reduced sizes of operations would likely lead to noticeable decreases in parking revenue as compliance will inevitably drop as deterrence is reduced.

Referring to the Positive Parking Agenda, the reduction in revenues from introducing Warning Notices for first offences would restrict the ability for the entire parking community to meet the campaign priorities. This includes improving road safety, reducing the severity and number of traffic collisions, improving air quality, reducing congestion and dwell time in finding spaces, and delivering a more effective, efficient and consistent parking management service.

Introducing Warning Notices for first offences would be a policy which would gather strong support among members of the public. However, one must investigate the practicalities of implementation, analyse the first-hand experiences of the public sector and private sector colleagues who have witnessed their ineffectiveness, and review the data on the impact of the sector.

At this stage, there appears to be no choice but to conclude it would not be viable.

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