Parking Stress Survey
It is the stuff of nightmares: cars double parked; safety compromised around schools because of the high volume of vehicles in the surrounding streets; shoppers unable to park near the local high street; commuters leaving their cars in the roads close to the railway station. For any developer, surveyor, housing association or local authority planning officer, mis-management of parking space can cause untold misery and problems.
So when it comes to urban residential development, no matter what area is under consideration – from converting a disused industrial site into housing or transforming a single house into flats – parking should always be a priority issue. It will undoubtedly be the focus for the residents, both people moving in and those who already live in the area, so it is imperative that the professionals responsible for the development get it right first time. The savvy developer will always make sure that they, or their specialist advisor, are as informed as possible when it comes to parking behaviour and patterns. Nowadays, many Planning Departments are asking for evidence of the impact of increasing the number of residencies and, therefore, the parking requirement.
Detailed knowledge of things such as times of high usage, areas where occupancy levels are above average and factors that can influence and change parking patterns – on either a temporary or permanent basis – will all go towards helping architects, surveyors and developers project manage the planning process cost-effectively and with the least amount of problem and delay.
This is why Alpha Parking has developed their own approach to carrying out and reporting on Parking Stress Surveys. These surveys review, measure and report on the parking availability in the local area and, therefore, the level of impact of any new development. It is a service where Alpha Parking’s experienced teams can deliver a cost effective result with a high level of skill and efficiency.
Director of Alpha Parking, Penny Winder, explains how the survey works: ‘Parking stress is usually expressed as a percentage and reflects the number of parked vehicles as a percentage of the amount of authorised available parking.
‘As an example, 75 per cent parking stress means that, on average, three quarters of the available parking space is occupied at the times expected to be reflecting the highest usage levels. Increasing the parking stress can impact areas such as safety, access by the emergency services, traffic flow, refuse collection, delivery of goods and amenity generally.’
In Winder’s experience, many councils will see anything above 80 per cent stress levels as high and a cause for concern. This means that adding to the on street parking requirement may impact on the planning permission.
The problem for developers is getting a comprehensive picture of the patterns of parking. The streets surrounding a railway station might only have 30 per cent occupancy in the early morning or evenings, but could reach levels of nearly 100 per cent during the day as commuters park their cars before boarding their train. Or a quiet street near a school could spring into life for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, but be virtually empty at all other times.
Then there are temporary traffic orders, which might lead to more vehicles hunting for fewer spaces. This could be true of a major construction site or roadworks following repairs or installation of gas, electricity or sewage lines.
The planning stage for the Parking Stress Survey highlights any potential areas of concern and adjusts the survey approach to reflect the current situation on the street. The survey involves planning and carrying out the on-site review and then producing reports, maps and photographs to the quality and detail required by the industry standards and the individual local authorities.
The Alpha team works from the accepted industry approach, but as Winder explains, each environment and situation is different, and so each survey will be adapted accordingly. And having this knowledge is vital to the whole operation, she adds. Because only when the council has received information on the parking stress of a development site will it give planning permission, so offering it at an early stage of proceedings will help speed up the whole process, again saving time and money on the development.’
The complex and exacting procedure for producing, recording and updating traffic orders is a challenge for many Local Authorities but is a central process in all effective parking enforcement. Under statutory guidance all traffic signs and road markings must match their respective traffic orders in every detail and failure to do so can result in a large number of Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) having to be refunded.
Difficulties in producing traffic orders can arise both in developing a set of base information that is fit for purpose and then in maintaining and updating this position. However, technology can help. GIS software, such as ParkMap, is the industry standard for making and recording traffic orders and if used correctly can make the process of producing and managing traffic orders more timely and cost-effective.
ParkMap is an electronic computer-based filing system, or database, for storing traffic order data and displaying the traffic restrictions on a map of the local authority area. It allows for detailed, clear and concise visualisations of traffic order data and has many advantages:
- Fast and exact access to information
- Clear historical audit trail of traffic orders
- Indexation by location, restriction type, reference or content
- Improved ease and standardisation for making traffic orders and performing consolidations
- Can be used to create Map Based Schedules – Many local authorities are now using map-based schedules in place of the traditional text schedules. This visual approach is perceived to be easier and quicker to understand both for parking staff using the traffic orders and the general public.
It is, however, an exacting tool requiring time, knowledge and standardised procedures to implement the systems and to maintain an acceptable quality of output. Many local authorities have ParkMap but often do not use it correctly. Here are a number of methods to ensure the system is being used to its full potential:
Communication and joint working
Generally, a number of different departments within a local authority are affected by traffic orders. Traffic, Highways and Parking departments are often all involved in the management of parking regulations and good communication between all departments is key. The parking department tends to be the eyes and ears of the local authority on-street and procedures should be put in place so that both Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) and Notice Processing staff can notify the appropriate member of staff of any irregularities of signs and lines. Ensuring that the procedures are in place to rectify these issues immediately ensures that the ParkMap instance correctly represents what is on-street.
It is important to regularly check that the data inputted into ParkMap is up to date. As the ParkMap instance is used to create traffic orders, it is extremely important that it matches what is actually on-street. As ParkMap provides a visual representation of your traffic orders which means that the surveyor can easily walk the street and eye-match the traffic orders with the signs and lines that are actually there. This saves time and ensures a cost-effective method of surveying.
Configuration and Development
It is important to ensure that the ParkMap software is kept up to date. Buchanan’s Computing release ParkMap updates on a regular basis and these updates often include new features that aid the traffic order management process. It is important that the updates are managed properly and that all members of staff who use the ParkMap system are kept informed about them. The ParkMap system is also needs to be looked at as an evolving tool. It is important that the system is maintained by a trained individual who can implement new functions if necessary. This could include adding new data fields to the system to meet the individual needs of the local authority.
The management of your traffic orders using ParkMap does involve a number of resources. It is also important that the team members charged with managing the system are experienced and sufficiently trained to effectively keep it up to date. The accurate inputting of data into the system is fundamental to ensuring that traffic orders match what is on street and it is extremely important that this task is not taken lightly. Inaccurate inputting can be a disaster for a local authority so this task should be taken on by a trained and skilled individual.
If the council is short on resources the management of the ParkMap system can be contracted out to an experienced consultant who can provide a ParkMap bureau service. This involves the consultant updating their ParkMap system with the council’s new or amended traffic orders to ensure that it is always up to date.
Downham will need nearly 40 extra parking spaces within the next five years, according to a traffic survey.
Inspectors from Alpha Parking have warned that failing to address the parking problems in Downham will affect the town’s future. The team has also advised that some form of charging can only achieve the investment needed to meet the demand.
Downham Town Council called in the firm to review of the town’s car parks last year after receiving complaints about spaces being blocked.
The report states that the town’s car parks are either full or at 95 per cent capacity.
It states: “These usage levels indicate that the point has already been reached where action to increase capacity is required. “In addition, it is not unreasonable to predict car parking demand in Downham will rise by approximately seven per cent to 10 per cent and forecasts indicate that the town council will need to provide between 26 and 37 extra off-street parking spaces over the next five years. “It should be recognised that without significant capital investment, meeting the extra population and thus potential parking can only be achieved by some form of charging.
“It should be recognised that failure to address these issues will seriously impact on the town’s future viability and the quality of life for residents in the area. The report is due to be discussed at Thursday’s annual meeting in the town hall at 7pm. Mayor John Doyle says no decision has been made with regards to the car parks He said: “We have had people park in the town for three weeks and go on holiday.
“Car parking is controversial at the moment. It seems at times the car parks are clogged up and my personal opinion is that we have got to do something about the log jam. “This is just a strategy. Before anything is done we would need a public meeting.”
To truly understand what challenges your CEOs face in their day-to-day lives, get “streetwise” by learning from the retail industry.
Make no mistake, it’s tough on the streets and the working life of a CEO is far from easy. This much maligned role (at least by the general public) is about much more than simply issuing parking tickets, especially since the introduction of the Traffic Management Act.
CEOs act as the “eyes and ears” of a council on the streets, and in addition to firmly but fairly enforcing parking regulations, as we know, their duties have been expanded. Nowadays, these might include inspecting blues badges, reporting inaccurate or missing signs and lines, reporting suspicious activity and helping to deter car crime.
Aside from their growing responsibilities, dealing with verbal and even physical abuse is now sadly a daily occurrence.
As CEOs are expected to continue performing this crucial role for councils, it is vital their employers offer them the necessary support and training for what is among the toughest local authority jobs.
But how can you measure how well your parking enforcement policy is being implemented across your local authority’s catchment area, where there are any gaps in enforcement, and where extra training may be needed?
There is a measurement tool that can be used which people may be more familiar with in the context of retail stores.
Independent ‘mystery shopping’ studies which are a great way of gauging parking team performance.
Mystery Shopping is a technique which monitors CEOs and Notice Processing Staff in their working environment and if used correctly can effectively ascertain how they interact with the public, how efficiently they carry out their role and their knowledge of the parking services as a whole.
There are a number of ways that the technique can prove invaluable. One London Borough Council wanted to understand why the number of penalty charge notices had dropped under its new enforcement contract.
A number of existing parking “beats” were selected for the study to establish a snap-shot of data, parking compliance and PCN activity within the borough.
Beats were chosen to be as representative of the borough as possible and were patrolled by experienced staff who held the City & Guilds level 2 CEO qualification.
Each street within each beat was patrolled by the mystery shopper as though they were an active CEO carrying out parking enforcement duties, recording all the same data.
The information gathered was cross referenced with the council’s PCN data for the real CEOs who were patrolling at the same time.
The results showed that although there was a high degree of compliance to parking restrictions throughout the borough, there were some inconsistencies in enforcing the parking protocol. Through the use of Mystery Shopping these inconsistencies were identified and remedied.
In another example, a council in North East England employed Mystery Shopping to measure the local council’s overall parking performance.
The mystery shopper team posed as members of the public, interacting with CEOs within a designated patrol beat. In this instance, Mystery Shopping should not be used to ‘entrap’ individual CEOs but rather to monitor and assess their performance.
They also made a series of phone calls, apparently as members of the public, to the parking services department.
The task included shadowing CEOs within a designated ‘beat’, and a team was deployed to different areas of the city to work out how many PCNs they would issue to vehicles believed to be contravening parking regulations.
The team also conducted an in-depth review of the main procedures carried out by the notice processing department.
The resulting data collected was used to provide constructive advice and recommendations on how the service could be improved and where training was needed.
This has the added benefit of providing data for Annual Reports and a benchmark for similar exercises in the future.
So mystery shopping can achieve a lot more than simply measuring how good the customer service is at your local retail stores!
Choose your survey…
This is a guide designed to help you choose the right survey for your needs
Parking stress surveys
A detailed knowledge of things, such as times of usage and areas where occupancy levels are above average, are factors that can influence and change parking patterns. This information helps architects, surveyors and developers to project manage a development cost-effectively. A ‘parking stress survey’ involves planning and carrying out the survey and then producing reports, maps and photographs to meet the clients’ requirements.
Parking stress reflects the number of parked vehicles as a percentage of the amount of authorised available parking. The parking stress survey highlights any potential areas of concern and gives detailed feedback on the current situation on the street.
An additional feature of a parking stress survey is that it can assess compliance with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (TSRGD), a piece of legislation that regulates the placement and quality of signs and lines on the roads.
Occupancy and duration surveys
These surveys are important as they help operators determine when car parks are at their busiest and when demand for space is low. Information gleaned from these surveys includes: how long people park for; what sections of the population use a car park; and local parking habits.
Asset and condition surveys
Making sure that signs and lines are in the correct place and give accurate information is crucial for both local authorities and developers. An ‘asset survey’ will record the location, fixing and condition of traffic signs, lines and street furniture and make sure that they are complying with the TSRGD. A ‘condition survey’ will assess local parking signs and lines to ensure that they are in a good condition and compliant with the legislation that governs signage on the roads.
When private car park operators and local authorities are assessing the usage and demand for parking, they need basic information such as number and type of parking spaces available. For example, a local authority might need to prove it is already providing enough Blue Badge spaces while a supermarket might want to advertise its parent & child parking. An ‘inventory survey’ will provide a full picture on parking at a specific locale,
providing information needed to understand the relationship between provision and demand.
A feasibility study will look at factors such as the current cost of parking, the demand for parking, seasonal or daily variations in demand, and trends that could impact on parking in the future. For example, if a car park currently charges 50p to park for two hours and the operator feels it is unlikely to change in the near future there is then no reason to upgrade its parking equipment to accept credit cards as investment outweighs
Under statutory guidance on Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE), all traffic signs and road markings must be in compliance with legal requirements and must match their respective traffic orders in every detail. Failure to do so can result in a large number of Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) having to be refunded at a cost that, in these times of austerity measures, local authorities can all afford.
There are two areas that local authorities need to be aware of when considering the validity of their signs and lines. One is their condition and compliance with TSRGD. Legislation states that lines ‘shall be of the size, colour, and type shown on [the] diagram [in the TSRGD]’ but it does not mention their condition. If a case reaches adjudication then the final decision is always down to the adjudicator’s discretion as cited in the example below from the Traffic Penalty Tribunal Website:
Inadequate condition of road markings (PL 1477)
The appellant parked on a worn double yellow line, mistaking it for an unrestricted single yellow line, and was issued with a PCN. He had been assisted in his misapprehension by the fact that the time plate referring to the double yellow-line restriction was obscured by foliage so that he did not see it. The Adjudicator found that the road markings were not in adequate condition.
The appeal was allowed.
The other area that local authorities need to be aware of is whether their signs and lines accurately reflect the respective traffic orders. Whereas the condition of a sign or line and their compliance with TSRGD can be spotted easily on-site, it is much more difficult to determine whether signs and lines reflect their traffic orders. It is important that local authorities check for both by conducting regular audits and compliance surveys of all street furniture. These should be conducted at regular intervals, every 12 to 18 months, to ensure that any changes made on-street and the condition of all signs and lines is up to date. To achieve this there are a number of methods to ensure the efficiency of these surveys and ensure that they are cost-effective:
Communication and joint working
Generally, a number of different departments within a local authority are affected by the street furniture. Traffic, Highways and Parking departments are often all involved in the management of parking regulations and good communication between all departments is key. The parking department tends to be the eyes and ears of the local authority on-street and procedures should be put in place so that both Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) and Notice Processing staff can notify the appropriate member of staff of any irregularities of signs and lines. This could include a CEO making note of a sign being missing or a line being too worn to be seen or a notice processer who has received an appeal letter which highlights a problem with certain signs and lines. Ensuring that the procedures are in place to rectify these issues immediately saves the council from the possibility that other appeals will be lodged.
Traffic orders tend to be long and are often complicated due to the number of amendments that have been added over the years. This is where technology can help. Having your traffic orders mapped onto a GIS system such as MapInfo or Esri can make surveying much easier. MapInfo and Esri provide a visual representation of your traffic orders which means that the surveyor can easily walk the street and eye-match the traffic orders with the signs and lines that are actually there. This saves time and ensures a cost-effective method of surveying. This can be taken further by adopting map-based schedules for your traffic orders. Many local authorities are now using map-based schedules in place of the traditional text schedules. This visual approach is perceived to be easier and quicker to understand both for parking staff using the traffic orders and the general public.
Another option for a quick check on signs and lines is to use Google Street View. This has recently provided unprecedented access to close-up street images, to the point where it can serve as a record of the signing and lining in many cases. It is important to remember when using Google Street View is that it is often outdated and it should never completely replace a full audit of street furniture. It should also be noted that Google’s terms and conditions do not allow the use of their photography for business purposes.
Resources and Staff Knowledge
The management of your traffic orders and ensuring that they match what is on-street does involve a number of resources. It is important that staff are kept aware of any changes in legislation and TSRGD amendments such as the new signing options available under the Department for Transport (DfT) Traffic Signs Review. It is also important that the team members charged with writing and managing the local authority’s traffic orders are experienced and sufficiently trained to effectively keep all orders and mapping systems up to date. Problems often occur when changes have been made on-street and the resources are not in place to ensure that amendments are made to traffic orders and/or mapping systems.
If the council is short on resources both the on-street surveying and traffic order management can be contracted out to an experienced consultant who can provide either surveying services or even a traffic order or mapping bureau service. This involves the consultant writing the council’s traffic orders or updating their mapping system, such as ParkMap, and although this involves a cost to the council, this cost is a lot less than the potential cost of refunding a large number of PCNs if faults are discovered.
Alpha Parking Seeks to Mix the Perfect Blend
Mention the phrase ‘blended learning’ to most people in the parking industry, and you are likely to be greeted by puzzled looks. Although the concept is a relatively new one, it is more than just a trendy ‘buzzword’ which will soon be forgotten. I believe the time is now ripe to use blended learning, an approach where delegates learn through a mix of different methods and activities; for instance, not just face to face learning but also via techniques such as e-learning and the use of interactive tools.
However the new Government’s policies pan out during the latest parliamentary term, we all know that funds are tight and local government, along with the public sector in general, is facing a severe squeeze. Yet standards of customer service and professionalism in the parking industry cannot slacken, and the ongoing training and development of parking professionals remains a legal requirement under the 2004 Traffic Management Act.
So, every pound invested in training over the next five years has to deliver maximum ‘bang for its buck’. During the last financial year alone, Alpha Parking has delivered around 77 training workshops, hosting approximately 500 plus delegates, and what has proved most effective is using a variety of training tools and techniques.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that a ‘one size fits all’ approach certainly doesn’t work in our diverse industry. From experience I know there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ training course in the parking industry; we have to cater for a tremendous amount of skills which need to be developed in the most appropriate ways. Examples range from understanding signs and lines to applying legislation and the writing and interpretation of traffic orders.
Trainers and their programmes must be flexible enough to deal with a tremendously varied mix of people, in terms of gender, ethnic background, ages and the different experience levels of the people undergoing the training. Just as there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ local authority – we’ve run courses for councils with about 50 CEOs (civil enforcement officers) and the 15 back office staff to support them, as well as training four CEOs and their single member of administrative support at a smaller local authority – there is no ‘typical’ delegate.
Everyone has different ways of learning and individuals are stimulated and motivated by different approaches. For instance, some people like to learn in peace and quiet while others prefer to take part in interactive sessions. To get the best results, you need a mix of approaches and delivery methods to meet the needs of your audience. Some of these will employ existing technology such as the internet, to download an ‘e-course’ perhaps, but often there may be no substitute for face-to-face support and shared experiences.
And there’s simply no excuse for training to be dull – your training provider should work hard to really engage the delegates in learning tasks. If the training experience is enjoyable, supportive and varied, people will learn much better!
Another advantage in these financially constrained times is that blended learning can see delegates complete their course at a faster pace. For example, compared to a traditional classroom based course that takes five days, a blended learning solution might cut the duration by two days.
That means CEOs or Notice Processing staff can learn more efficiently, and be back dealing with the public that bit quicker. This benefit could also be applied to other employees such as supervisors and team leaders.
With the new financial year already underway, and training managers again considering how to make their budget go as far as possible, can I recommend a few simple tips?
Be clear about your objective for the training. What precisely do you want to achieve?
Assess what methods; courses and learning styles are best for your audience
Looking at the different types of learning on the market; and don’t try to cram in all your courses at once
Remember to assess what works best for your people. ‘Hard assessment’ – by which I mean exams and quizzes – should form part of this process.
Ideally, it is best to build up a long-term relationship with your training provider so he/she really gets to know your organisation, its people and aims over a period of time and can tailor the very best solutions
The latter may sound like a panacea in these difficult times. But given the multiple, complex challenges often facing parking operators today, making the right investment in developing your people is not something to be taken lightly.
The last few years has seen an exponential increase in the number of accredited courses available to the parking sector. Staff in a number of different job roles have benefitted from this with qualifications now available for, amongst others, Civil Enforcement Officers, Notice Processors, CCTV operators, Private Land Enforcement and Parking Team Leaders and Managers. This can only be positive for the sector as a whole which, with the ever increasing number of cars on our streets, has an important role to play in managing congestion within the UK. So where do we go from here? What does the future hold for training within the parking sector?
The introduction of accredited training has gone a long way to increasing the professionalism of the sector by equipping all involved with the knowledge necessary to carry out their roles efficiently and accurately. However, the parking sector still suffers from a negative public image and is seen by the general public as solely a means for local authorities to make an extra income. This is shown by the fact that there are still many groups and individuals, including the mainstream press, who attempt to undermine the sector. We are aware of a number of local authorities who have received Freedom of Information Requests regarding the training that staff receive; an obvious attempt to find fault in the way the sector operates. Combating this negative image is not easy. Professional qualifications go some way to do this and training has an extremely important role to play in the future of the parking sector.
There is room for further accredited training courses which will aid the increased professionalism of the sector and also create further career paths for those that work within it. An area that I believe needs some specific attention is that of traffic orders. Traffic orders play an important role in parking enforcement and even the smallest error can have huge repercussions for local authorities. The drafting and making of traffic orders is a specific skill that seems to be on the wane. A professional qualification would help to encourage people to take on the role of traffic order maker and the sector as a whole would benefit in the long term.
The creation of a career path in general would also be a benefit. It is often said that many people working within the parking sector ‘fell into’ their roles rather than actively choosing this career path. However, that is not to say that there shouldn’t be a specific route into and through all levels of the job. There will be qualifications available for a career with the development of parking apprenticeships and the introduction of levels 3, 4, and 5 in leadership and management. However, there needs to be a framework in place for this to truly work.
There has been some interest from local authorities in the creation of training plans for staff. Alpha Parking have recently won the contract to develop a training plan for London Borough of Hounslow council which will span the next four years. The aim is to maintain high standards and professionalism within the parking department by encouraging staff to take courses and qualifications to increase their skills base. This is something that would benefit all local authorities and private companies within the sector and believe that the formation of standardised training and career plans will eventually roll out across the sector.
Standardised training plans also allow local authorities to share training resources going forward. Joined-up thinking when it comes to training will only benefit all within the sector. Sharing resources means that local authorities can ensure that training is efficient and cost-effective. A joined-up approach may also open the door for funding from the Skills Funding Agency. These are all things that are in early stages of development but in general the parking sector is making the right moves forward.
Southampton and Portsmouth City Councils to undergo City and Guilds Notice Processing Training
Southampton and Portsmouth City Council’s Notice Processing staff will become the first councils to be trained by Alpha Parking in the new City and Guilds Notice Processing Level 3 Qualification in September.
Southampton’s seven strong notice processing team who are part of the council’s ISO 1001-2008 accredited parking services will travel to Portsmouth City Council to join their nine staff and undergo the training in modular form. Though there are fierce football rivalries between the two cities, the council’s share training and knowledge on a regular basis which helps to maintain the high professional standards they set themselves.
The City and Guilds qualification is the first of its kind to be specifically designed for notice processing staff and gives delegates the skills necessary to pursue a career in this office based parking role. The course is taught in two units with the mandatory first unit providing an introduction to notice processing and information management. There is a choice of second unit depending on whether the delegate works in public or private enforcement, both of which develop delegates’ learning further. All units are assessed by multiple choice exams.
“We are delighted to be up and running in delivering this qualification” says Alpha Parking Director, Penny Winder. “It is an important step for the parking sector and we hope to see more qualifications like this being developed to help up-skill those who work within the industry”.
“Being able to share the training with Portsmouth City Council has provided us with the opportunity to limit the amount of time our staff are away from their desks and helps them to continue to provide a quality service whilst gaining a valuable City and Guilds qualification” says Southampton City Council’s Office Manager (Highways and Parking), Dave King. “Alpha Parking are supplying us with cost-effective, professional training that meets the individual needs of both councils”
“Portsmouth City Council is committed to providing staff with on-going support and training to ensure the council offers the best possible service” adds Portsmouth City Council’s Parking Office Manager, Denise Bastow. “For too long notice processing teams have been overlooked and we are delighted that there is finally a nationally recognised qualification that recognises their achievements”.