I frequently walk by this M/C parking bay, but the scene I saw this week got me thinking about rules. Who makes ‘em, what for – in theory and really – and who has to abide by The Rules and who can get away with flouting them…
The first thing that started me thinking in that direction was the surprise of seeing how full this bay was on a dark cold drizzly night – having approached it from behind the sign. And, I guess I should explain that the bay is usually fairly empty these days, but not because riders in London don’t go out in the cold or at night. In fact this bay used to be rammed full to overflowing pretty much 24/7. But that all stopped when Westminster began their ‘experimental’ scheme to try and force all scooter and motorbike riders to pay a new parking tax – which they did by changing the rules in all of the few M/C bays in the central area of London where the council make the rules. And to keep the picture clear despite the murky photos, bays like this one that were designated for bike parking without risk of fines for ‘illegal’ parking, are inadequately scattered amongst the acres of road space that are covered by parking rules which are to ‘manage traffic’ in theory. But in reality of course, the main reason for these rules is to keep the money flowing in from the Cash Cow that parking enforcement has become.
Anyway, it is also clear from these pictures, and loads more here, that the scallywags who have defaced the new scheme signs have broken some rules in a rebellious effort to invalidate the enforcement of a bike parking tax in that location. And I gather that this particular type of signage customisation/ vandalism is called ‘Rathboning’ as these acts are attributed to a mysterious ‘Captain Rathbone’ – and a loose collection of pirates who keep doing these dastardly deeds. However, as I said before, I am not in a position to condone such rule-breaking for various reasons, not least of which is my concern that such activities could harm the reputation of ‘bikers’ and scooterists in London. But what I can and will say is that these Rathboners are not the only bunch involved with this new riders’ tax who seem to be breaking rules.
I have seen the full range of formalised complaints against the pioneers of this new bike parking tax scheme, and the evidence to back such claims. Most of this has been gathered and submitted by a dedicated few in the NTBPT. But the claims and evidence that triggered an EU Commission investigation has come from very big international players in the parking enforcement business who are very aggrieved by what they claim is very serious rule-breaking indeed. So, from what I’ve seen, I can say that all sorts of rules may well have been bent or broken, in order to get this new tax imposed for the moment on the central streets of London.
But now it seems we’re at a point where reactions to rules and rule-breaking are getting complicated. Having seen the initial rounds of formal responses from the organisations who are supposed to investigate claims about rule breaking and take action to stop it, or chuck out anything that is wrongly achieved by it, it looks like some of them are trying to wriggle out of doing their job. Currently, it would seem that the Office of Fair Trading is suggesting that it would be best if they let the EU Commissioners investigate complaints that the bike park tax pioneers at WCC may have flouted rules to ensure that trading in Britain is actually fair. Frankly I’m not convinced about that but not being an expert on fair trading laws I’m not qualified to say, but I gather that the NTBPT are in touch with bods who can.
Currently, the OFT are not alone in resisting calls for action. Other official bodies who have been asked to investigate potential rule-breaking behind the scenes by the bike tax pioneers, are also trying to buy some time before getting on with investigations. And, in a way this is understandable as they are run by civil servants in outfits like like the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Audit Commission, where all will be wondering if they’ll still have a job after the next election.
So, for now, it is clear that some rules about defacing signs are being broken on the street by individuals who feel that such actions are their best or perhaps only path left for expressing their views about a new bike parking tax. What is far less clear though is whether those who have made new rules to tax riders have broken even more behind the facade of Westminster City Hall. We will also have to wait and see if the public servants who are responsible for investigating rule breakers do their job as well and fairly as they should. Personally, I very much hope they do in due course. But I will not be holding my breath in the mean time – and will be doing what I can to encourage all concerned to respect the rules that deserve respecting most…