Will failure of Appeal against WCC bike parking tax lead UK Councils to treat motorbikes more like cars than bicycles?

Posted: 13th April 2011 | 5 Comments »

Post-ruling update: 27.04.11

Bad and potentially good news…

Regrettably, my concerns over weaknesses in the way the case was put against the use of Traffic Act powers to develop a pay-by-phone bike parking tax scheme were well founded.

The Appeal Court decided that the earlier High Court ruling should stand and that WCC had used Traffic Act powers ‘legitimately’, and therefore, any other UK Council can now use those powers and this business blueprint of a scheme to do the same in their part of the country. However, although I still believe that the original ruling was wrong, its being upheld was not a failing of the Appeal Court – and for reasons I suggested in my previous post.

Whatever. Most critically, this judgement effectively says that for now at least, all UK local transport authorities can use Traffic Act powers to  impose new charges for on-street bike parking in order to ‘terminate’ distinctions between cars and motorbikes or scooters.

And although it is far less significant, it is also unfortunate that the decision I took to report my views on all this as in the blog below, without mentioning the NTBPT Campaign group or it’s Chairman Warren Djanogly, who brought the case to court, it has been misconstrued in some quarters as an indication that I undervalue the extraordinary work and efforts made by all concerned with what has been an exceptional single issue campaign.

As a matter of fact, my decision was based purely on a desire to publish a report that could be read by as wide a group of people as possible with the lowest prospect of being dismissed as biased in favour of the NTBPT. And, for the record, whilst I have disagreed with some of the protest tactics and saddened by some of the things said in the course of the campaign, I continue to have great admiration for the courage and tenacity of Chairman Warren – and the extraordinary range of supporters he has inspired to engage in legitimate protest against what I still see as an abuse of powers that are granted to improve conditions for all road users.

The potential good news is that the true legitimacy of the use of such powers may be subject to further examination and with greater focus on the real core issues of principle than they have so far. The latest news from the NTBPT is that a new QC has offered to take the case on to Europe.

Previous post:

Cort pic cropped1 300x180 Will failure of Appeal against WCC bike parking tax lead UK Councils to treat motorbikes more like cars than bicycles?

A crucial change in the way motorbikes and scooters are seen and may be treated by local authorities in the UK is imminent…

It will be triggered by three Appeal Court judges who will decide whether to overturn a High Court ruling that Westminster City Council used Traffic Act powers lawfully – to impose a new tax for on-street parking of solo motorbikes in bays that were already established for that purpose. That ruling was in my view deeply flawed, as I have said before, but I regret to say now that flaws in the way the appeal case was put, seem likely to allow the Appeal Court Judges to let the previous ruling stand.

My account of proceedings is offered later, but first I think it useful to explain the context and why this issue is far more significant for the future of powered two wheelers (PTW) use in the UK than it may appear on the surface.

The key issue at stake is whether UK councils can or should treat demand for parking these congestion busting machines in similar ways to other single-track vehicles like bicycles, or like motorised twin-track vehicles including cars, vans and trucks.

The issue was brought to a head by a controversial ‘permanent’ pay-by-phone bike parking scheme pioneered by Westminster City Council (WCC) that came into force in January 2010, which imposes new fees or triggers for PCN fines for on-street solo motorcycle parking in bays that were already there and paid for.

But opponents claim, quite rightly in my view, that WCC have used Traffic Management Act powers to introduce a revenue generating scheme that has no real traffic management benefit, and is therefore not a legitimate use of such powers ­– and is just a means to extract a new ‘motoring tax’ from the thousands of scooter and motorbike riders who need to park in central London.

Pros and Cons

In simple terms, some people think that because PTWs have a motor, they should pay to park as car drivers do. Some influential members of the motorcycling lobby broadly agreed with that view when this scheme was first proposed back in 2008, and thought that as it was ‘only a quid or so’, it wasn’t worth fighting over. Others on the UK biking scene were quite drawn by councilor’s promises that the revenues raised would be used to improve amenities for all PTW riders – and to significantly improve on-street bike parking in the centre of town…

Anyway, more importantly now, at least one of the three judges seemed to believe that riders should pay just as car drivers do, and that belief seemed to me to be firmly held from start to finish of the proceedings.

Conversely, others, including me, think that because PTWs are single track vehicles like bicycles, and both modes help users to alleviate congestion problems, but use of all twin tracked vehicles make jams worse, so PTW riders should not pay extra new fees to use tiny allocations of on-street parking bays – on top of road tax and fuel duty that cyclists do not pay – and especially as the solo M/C bays in question here were already established for that purpose.

But the biggest problem arising from plans to treat PTWs more like cars than bicycles as far as parking charge schemes are concerned is far worse than the prospect of an additional cost to park a motorbike or scooter. The pay-by-phone scheme in this case is designed for use by any UK council that might be interested in a new source of cash from riders. But, and this is a crucial but.

In order for local authorities to ‘justify’ the imposition of extra fees and fines for bike parking, they must increase the extent to which they stress negative views of scooters and motorbikes and/or demonise PTW use in the same way they do with cars, vans and trucks.

Appeal Hearing

Basically, after spending two days at the Appeal Court watching the Judges and looking for clues about their reactions to the case before them, I suspect that they will not feel inclined to overrule the previous ruling. Obviously, I hope to be wrong about the outcome but there were, in my opinion, critical weaknesses in the way the case against the ruling was made by the QC acting for the appellant. And, despite my best efforts to persuade the QC to do so, two crucial points were just not made at all.

In essence, the appellant claimed there was no demonstrable traffic management benefit from introducing new fees to park bikes in on-street bays. Conversely, the council claimed there was an “ever increasing demand for motorcycle parking” and that “measures of restraint”, including new charges, could be justified to ‘manage’ that demand. The court then heard that the council had no evidence of ‘ever increasing demand’, and cabinet papers stated that demand for bike parking had not risen prior to the permanent scheme coming into force in January 2010, or since.

Traffic Management Acts require a ‘traffic management benefit’ in order to justify any new fee scheme, and tangible revenue raising through subcontracted services contravenes the Traffic Management and Local Government Acts. So, Traffic Act Orders cannot be lawfully used to impose what is effectively just a new tax. And, as a matter of fact, although it was not mentioned in court, this was especially critical in this case as Westminster council had already built up a ‘surplus’ of around half a million pounds from an experimental version of the scheme, prior to its’ decision to introduce a new ‘permanent’ bike parking fees scheme.

The argument on the first day led to a claim that the council couldn’t use Traffic Act powers lawfully to charge bikers to park in on-street bays. However, one of the judges did not find this argument “attractive”, and seemed to prefer a simpler view; if car drivers have to pay to park on public highways, motorcycle riders should too. This led her to voice an opinion that even though the council’s actions may not have been ‘entirely within the law’, they ‘ought to have the power to charge for on-street bike parking if they wanted to’. In turn, that led to a suggestion that the preceding High Court ruling may have been right as it said that Westminster were entitled to use Traffic Act Orders to “terminate discrimination between cars and motorcycles”.

On the second day, I suggested to the lawyers that the point should be made that comparing motorcycle parking with car parking should be balanced by a comparison with bicycle parking as well. Discrimination is applied to demands for bicycle parking in contrast to car parking, in that drivers pay and cyclists do not. Crucially, the High Court ruled that WCC were entitled to use Traffic Act powers to impose new fees to “terminate” discrimination between PTWs and Cars. But that ruling completely ignores a crucial reason to maintain such discrimination – namely that bicycles contribute less to congestion problems as they are single track vehicles, whereas cars vans and lorries are twin-tracked vehicles. As a matter of fact, PTWs are also single-track vehicles, so there are extremely good reasons to treat them differently to cars, and in similar ways to bicycles. Unfortunately, bicycles were never mentioned during the two days, so that point did not get any consideration.

Another key reason for the permanent scheme to be deemed unlawful was that the entire ‘consultation’ about it was skewed in a way that was made clear in the witness statement I had submitted in the original High Court hearing. Throughout all consultations, the council said that the main reason for a permanent new fees scheme was to pay for improvements to motorcycle parking in the borough. Equally importantly, they said that ‘demand management’ or ‘restraining’ motorcycle use was not a reason for a permanent version of the scheme – and the consultees they told this to included MAG, the BMF and a representative of the Motor Cycle Industry Association in a meeting that I arranged with the Cabinet member responsible at the time in June 2009, and this fact was also mentioned in the statement I submitted to the court.

Crucially, the High Court ruling in June 2010, said that the council had imposed the permanent fees scheme lawfully because the main reason for it was “to improve on-street parking availability for motorcyclists”. But, in fact, when the official ‘reasons’ for the new ‘permanent’ scheme were published, on Thursday 22nd January 2010, and came into force four days later on Monday 25th, there was no mention of any improvements. Instead, the only reason for “small” charges from then on was due to “ever increasing pressure on Westminster’s kerbside space” and “motorcyclists’ increasing use of and demand for these limited resources”.

Put simply, all consultees had been misled by being told the official reasons for the permanent scheme was to pay for improvements, when in the end, at the eleventh hour, it was confirmed in the Statement of Reasons for the new ‘permanent’ scheme that officially, the new fees were only for ‘demand management’.

However, and potentially critically for the outcome of the appeal, that point was not made to the court. Claims that the consultation was skewed were based on an argument that the council said the fees were to manage ever increasing demand for bike parking, but had no evidence to show that demand had increased.

Three Appeal Court judges are now considering the case against a permanent version of bike parking fees scheme that still looks more like a tax to many riders than a measure to manage traffic better.

However, and notwithstanding the strength of the full case against the legitimacy of using Traffic Act powers in the way that WCC did, given the way that case was put in the Court of Appeal, I have serious doubts about whether the High Court ruling will be overturned, and think on balance that it the Appeal will be dismissed. As you may imagine, in this case, I would be absolutely delighted to be wrong.

Westminster go-ahead for controversial M/C Parking Tax that is set to hit all UK riders – but it also opens doors for serious legal challenges…

Posted: 14th January 2010 | 7 Comments »

DC smile pic copy2 Westminster go ahead for controversial M/C Parking Tax that is set to hit all UK riders – but it also opens doors for serious legal challenges...So, Westminster City Council (WCC) have finally decided to go-ahead with plans to make their ‘experimental’ and unprecedented pay-by-phone M/C parking tax a permanent measure. The decision by Cllr Danny Chalkley (right) to authorise new Traffic Orders to do this – as recommended by officers led by ‘this is not a revenue stream’ Alistair Gilchrist (left), will take effect on 25th January. Gilchrist warden copy2 Westminster go ahead for controversial M/C Parking Tax that is set to hit all UK riders – but it also opens doors for serious legal challenges...Of course this is potentially very bad news for all UK riders as it could trigger a nationwide roll-out of new bike parking charges. If such charges do go nationwide it could cost the motorcycling community a staggering £93,000,000 per year, according to the Tax Payers Alliance who support objectors to what they see as a tax in all but name. But there is some good news. The leading opponents of the move NTBPT say that the WCC decision also opens doors for legal challenges on a number of fronts.

So, although WCC may regard the matter as closed by their decision, this is not the case as far as I am concerned and i am delighted to report that I am far from being alone in that view. And as I’ve reported a few days ago, some scallywags in our midst have been so angered by what they see as a totally unfair and unjustifiable scheme, that they have gone to the extremes of taking the law into their own hands. Within two days of me and other biker bloggers breaking news about this move, many signs explaining how the scheme works at M/C parking bays had been defaced. And, as regular visitors here will know, these shocking acts made the controversial charges technically unenforceable within UK Traffic Act regulations. But the facts as I see them are that the vast majority of protests and objections have been made in legitimate forms and superbly led by the NTBPT and their thousands of supporters who are the focal point for opposition to Westminster’s regressive scheme.

And, although I and others concerned with this nasty rider’s tax must stress that we can’t condone actions that cross the line into any forms of illegal activity, it was cheering to hear NTBPT chairman Warren Djanogly’s initial response to news of the WCC decision, which in his in his generally robust campaigning style was to say to me. “Let battle commence!” Now though, Warren has spoken in more measured tones to identify the basis for further challenges and work to get the charging scheme scrapped. “Cllr Chalkley’s decision to make the scheme permanent has opened a window for us to launch a full legal challenge.” In a nutshell what this means is that NTBPT are now proceeding with legal challenges having already raised the magnificent sum of £30,000 for a ‘fighting fund’ to cover legal costs.

One challenge is in the form of a formal demand for an official Public Inquiry into the legitimacy of the ‘experiment’ on which WCC based their decision to press ahead with the scheme. Other NTBPT challenges have prompted the District Audit Office and the Office of Fair Trading to investigate their claims and outlines of evidence that the council has breached various regulations that govern procurement and tendering procedures for UK local authorities. And, as my news story for MSL magazine highlighted, the EU Commissioners are also investigating what WCC may have been up to that wasn’t quite the way it should have been.

Yesterday I did the decent investigative thing and called WCC to get the latest on what Danny Chalkley had to say about his latest move . As you’d expect, he defended his decision and told me that he ‘understands’ that “charging to park is not popular with some motorcyclists”, but he also claimed that “it is fair and reasonable that motorcyclists, contribute to the cost of improvements and the maintenance of transport infrastructure.” But I have a big problem trying to accept this line of argument. In fact, as far as I can see, Danny has a big problem with it too. After all, as we all know now, thanks to diligent probes and many Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, the facts of life about the money already extracted from rider’s pockets show that this argument is unsustainable to say the least – and complete and utter tosh to be a tad more accurate.

The relentless barrage of  FOI requests forced the council to admit that they have already taken over £2 million from riders during the ‘trial’ of the charges. And even by their well spun calculations, WCC Inc. have already trousered a net surplus of at least £500,000 after all costs of ‘improvements’ and setting up their ultra sophisticated pay-by-phone system have been paid for.

So where are we now? Well, in the course of my attempts to scrape a living from writing about the stuff that bothers UK riders today, I did a round up of what the key players in our rider’s rights groups think and have to say.

What do Rider’s Rights groups and the Motorcycling industry say and call for now?

Updated Friday 15 Jan, 08.45 The first comments on this blog have been about the UK Motorcycle Industry’s position during the course of this campaign and now. In the light of that I have added a link to the MCIA page explaining their position in full and add what I regard as the most pertinent section immediately below and prior to my summary posted last night. I will be talking to the MCIA spokesman for Public Affairs soon,  hopefully today, and will encourage the industry to update it’s position now that WCC have decided to go-ahead with their scheme whilst retaining the ‘demand management’ objective as an official reason to impose new extra charges for the use of motorcycles and scooters in Westminster.

From MCIA Policy statement

“MCI is concerned that the justification for the parking charge may have moved from being one of paying for improved parking service provision for motorcyclists, to one of ‘demand management,’ intended to deter motorcycle use. WCC officials have sought to assure the Association that the basis of the charge is service provision.

However, the current Westminster CC ‘Unitary Development Plan’ (UDP) specifically states that parking charges for motorised vehicles are levied on the basis of ‘demand management’. MCI is opposed to many of the principles of the ‘demand management’ philosophy, as this has often been used as an excuse to discourage powered vehicles and in particular PTWs, and is urging WCC to clarify and resolve this apparent contradiction.”

Back to original summary…

Let’s start with the The Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCIA). And yes I know that there are some riders & campaigners who have been a bit frustrated by a somewhat restrained level of action regarding the M/C parking tax issue so far. But the MCIA position as I understand it is quite clearly that it wants the scheme withdrawn because a key official objective for the charges, in Westminster’s core policy document called the UDP,  is to ‘manage demand’ for M/C bays by introducing ‘fees’ to deter riders from parking and therefore using PTWs on central London streets.

MAG’s General Secretary, Nich Brown, put the debate over bike parking fees into a clear perspective earlier today and offers good advice about what riders can do and says this. “The argument that riders should pay to park on roads operated by local councils, is fundamentally flawed. Riders pay far more in taxes than the benefit they receive when using the roads. Every year the councils raid the money they should be spending to make roads safer for motorcycles by ensuring road repairs last more than five minutes and providing non-slip manhole covers and access to bus lanes.” He then added that “Until all councils ‘think bike’, there can be no question of charging to park on the street.” Nich then suggests that “MAG’s RAV campaign (supported by BMF and MCI) is giving thousands of riders an opportunity to quiz would-be MPs and councillors. ‘Why should I give you my vote?’ is one of the most powerful ways to get what we want.” (http://www.ridersarevoters.org)

Now as far as chairman of the NTBPT Warren Djanogly is concerned he has said this. “Cllor Chalkley’s decision to make the scheme permanent has opened a window for us to launch a full legal challenge. It’s going to be expensive but if just 5,000 bikers contributed £10 each (less than a tank of fuel), we can beat this evil stealth tax.” In response, the BMF has called on all UK motorcyclists to chip in whatever they can. Chris Hodder, the BMF’s Government Relations Executive said. “These parking charges run contrary to the Government’s aim to ‘mainstream’ motorcycling but the only option now available is to overturn the scheme in the courts. If we don’t, this could spell the nationwide end of free parking for motorcycles. Now is the time to stand up and be counted and support the NTBPT fighting fund.” Currently the fund stands at £30,000, but needs at least another £20,000 to meet the expected minimum legal costs of £50,000.

Finally, MAG’s campaigns co-ordinator Paddy Tyson summarises the current situation in a way that I agree with wholeheartedly. “The serious nature of this situation really shouldn’t be underestimated. MAG understands that all local councils are underfunded, but motorcycling is certainly not the resource they should turn to as an extra source of revenue.” He adds. “PTWs can help local authorities actually reduce costs, by reducing congestion and infrastructural damage as well as emissions, so motorcycle and scooter riders shouldn’t be penalised and discouraged. MAG fully supports NTBPT and urges councils around the country not to  adopt a policy which in essence is counter productive.”

Westminster’s top dog Colin Barrow leads Tory Cllrs who want a ‘Magna Carta for localism’ but is this good for the people or good for them?

Posted: 12th January 2010 | 4 Comments »

Colin Barrow1 Westminsters top dog Colin Barrow leads Tory Cllrs who want a Magna Carta for localism but is this good for the people or good for them?News is breaking today that top Tory Cllrs are making their final push to get a  ’Magna Carta for localism‘ embedded in the Conservatives pre-election manifesto.

This could be very good news for UK riders in my view but not in a way that Cllr Barrow would like it. It is only fair to assume that many conservative councillors and MPs are in favour of a ‘localist’ emphasis – on the basis that it will help ensure that policy decisions are made in the best interests of people where they have greatest impact – namely at local level. But, and I have to say it’s a very big but in my view, there is often a very big gap between the real motives that politicians have for increasing political power at local level, and the seemingly well meant theories that can reassure us that everything they plan will be as lovely as it can be.

The last time I spoke to Barrow was before an exceptionally well attended full council meeting in which the ‘experimental’ motorbike parking charges/tax scheme was to be reviewed. He told me that his officers (led no doubt by Alastair Gilchrist ‘this is not a revenue raising exercise’ ) said that Westminster had ‘problems’ with meeting demand for bike parking in the borough. I told him that there was a simple solution to all these ‘problems’ and that is to look at what all comparable cities do. Throughout the EU and most of the developed world, local authorities recognise the invaluable positive role that scooters and motorcycles play in modern towns and cities – and do not see riders as a potential target for new taxes. Very sensibly and rightly, most transport authorities outside the UK allow riders to park without extra charges in the abundance of places they can use without causing inconvenience to anyone or cost to the council. Barrow looked nonplussed at my suggestion and could find nothing to say apart from “Oh, I see” Not quite true of course because it was clear to me that neither he nor his officers had bothered looking for ‘solutions’ that didn’t involve creating a new tax.

Now though, in addition to various other challenges ahead for Barrow he may have a new and real problem. His fellow top Tory Councillors and key parliamentarians may start taking a very dim view of his council’s plans to pioneer a brand new local tax – to ‘solve’ a bike parking ‘problem’ that doesn’t exist in any other world city. The real problem for Barrow and us all is that Westminster council has always led the way in screwing all the money they can, from any group of road users they can, in the form of parking ‘management’ and highly profitable privatised enforcement. But if the new Tory Magna Carter ends up being seen as a charter for councillors to impose more localised taxes, and especially on vulnerable road users in the form of PTW riders, it may not seem quite as attractive to the electorate as it’s promoters hope. This latest development of a new ‘Magna Carter’ and controversial measures for enforcement also begs other questions. Not least important of these concerns the way Cllr Barrow will be seen by his fellow politicians and the great British public. Will he be hailed as a ‘people power’ Baron or slide into disfavour as a greedy King John?

Protesters fightback against Westminster’s attempts to get cash flowing in again from bike parking tax

Posted: 10th January 2010 | 11 Comments »

newly defaced sign 213x300 Protesters fightback against Westminsters attempts to get cash flowing in again from bike parking taxWestminster’s attempts to keep it’s ‘Stealth Tax’ for scooter  and motorbike riders is being subject to stealthy attacks by a secret army of angered citizens. I am reliably informed that protesters have already been out in force in London to fightback against Westminster’s attempts to get cash flowing in again from their controversial and widely hated bike parking tax scheme. And these latest events are happening only days after go-ahead was given to try and make the ‘trial’ charging scheme permanent. Reports are coming in from Visordown (thanks for latest pic) & the NTBPT campaign group to confirm that within hours of the council sending contractors out to replace defaced signs, the new signs have been rendered useless.

Fresh applications of paint have already been applied to many of the new signs to cover crucial details about the charging scheme and this means that charges or parking tickets can not be legally enforced by Westminster City Council.  As I have said before, I cannot condone acts of protest that can be regarded as vandalism. However, the facts of life in a democracy work like this. When officials with government powers end up disregarding a massive swath of legitimate objections to their plan for a new tax on a specific section of the public – and all legitimate paths for meaningful objection by individual citizens are closed – some individuals will take action that is outside those legitimate channels of communication from which they feel shut out.

In my view this current plan for a new parking tax is exceptionally ill-conceived and regressive, and I have done my best along with many others to explain why this is so to the bods who are responsible for creating the current mess. In essence, the key problem with this stealth tax and cause of so much anger is this. It is targeted at a specific group of citizens who work, live and shop in the central district of London who are all doing their bit to cut congestion problems by making essential journeys by motorbike or scooter. Penalising such a group with a new tax is IMHO, indefensible and mad!

And, the main reason that I can’t see objections to the tax ceasing in the foreseeable future, is that the target group for turning into a new local government revenue stream includes an extraordinary cross section of people. Powered Two Wheeler (PTW) riders range from nurses & other essential low paid workers to hospital consultants and couriers who are ensuring that the pace of business in the capital remains competitive with other world cities. So, the current situation looks like this to me. The income from the ‘trial’ of this parking tax scheme in the heart of the the capital run by Westminster Council has far exceeded any ‘benefits’ that the council originally said would justify new charges and fines to be imposed on riders. Correspondingly the only real reason for Westminster officials to try and keep this charging and fines scheme in place is to extract a bit more cash from a minority group of vulnerable road users aka bikers & scooterists.

Lastly, for now, I think there is one other thing to keep in mind. Although the defacing of signs is the most obviously ‘sensational’ aspect of the latest events that can and I’m sure  will be labeled as vandalism by some who will tut accordingly, other very legitimate lines of protest are now open and are as I understand it ready to be actioned – including formal investigations by the EU Commissioners and the Audit Commission and at least two other legal challenges regarding the legitimacy of tendering processes etc, during the set-up phases for the scheme.

All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control ‘pubic opinion’ can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals…

Posted: 28th December 2009 | No Comments »

All Quite on Western Front cropped copy All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control pubic opinion can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals...As supporters of the Rage Against the Machine campaign have just shown, even the most powerful and smug controllers of what the public have to accept here in Britain, can be humbled by effective protests that are coordinated via the internet.

Getting those who have great influence to make better distinctions between having the power to manipulate, ‘control’ or simply ignore public opinion – and whether they are right to use it for their own ends – is always a battle. But it sure feels good to see one of those battles won for a change in the music world.

And, albeit on a smaller scale, I think this has an intriguing relevance to the ongoing saga of Westminster City Council’s (WCC) attempts to pioneer new high-tech systems to tax riders of motorbikes and scooters – by making them pay to park on the public roads that they have already paid many times over to use. I have just learned that Cllr Danny Chalkley has now got the latest and final version of his ‘Officer’s Report‘ in to consider.

This reviews events so far, as far as the council officers see them, and recommends whether WCC should make their ‘experimental’ rider’s tax permanent. Danny had asked for a re-write of the previous version of report which recommended going ahead with the new tax. That followed various private meetings and comments from NTBPT, MAG, BMF, and yours truly. This demand for a re-write prompted a glimmer of hope for some of us that sense would at last prevail and the power of arguments that a new UK rider’s tax would do far more harm than good, would finally be recognised. But no…

I have now read the report and can tell you that all it’s author did was add a few spurious responses to key criticisms and the recommendation to go-ahead with this potential new stealth-tax stands. Critically though, and I have already told Danny this, some of these responses will create a new focus for problems if, as I suspect they will, WCC decide to plough on with trying to get away with keeping this new revenue stream flowing. I gather though that DC’s decision will now be made early in the new year, so more on that when it happens. In the meantime, I will carry on with my reflections on recent doings.

Gilchrist note 300x231 All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control pubic opinion can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals...From what I have seen so far, on the inside and the outside, it strikes me that there are strong parallels between the way that Simon Cowell of X Factor fame carries on – and the contemptuous attitudes to public opinion that are exhibited by some in Westminster who are involved with pushing this regressive tax on users of Powered Two Wheelers (PTW) – which are IMHO a vital, green and highly efficient mode of transport – especially in our congested towns and cities. However, it is worth noting that although Cowell has a bit of egg on his face, he is doubtless a great deal richer nevertheless – and smart enough to continue raking in loads more cash. And frankly, if folks want to keep spending their hard-earned on keeping Simon in the luxurious lifestyle to which he is accustomed, so be it. I am not a fan of telling anyone what to do with their cash.

What I’m still pondering though is how far the parallels may run. Will the sometimes smug controllers inside Westminster City Hall get away with no egg on face? There could well be a lot of egg to come from various sources. These include the ongoing and escalating campaign of protests organised by NTBPT and splinter groups like the RATS – and the outcomes from various legal challenges that are already being investigated and one that is waiting in the wings if the scheme goes permanent.

Perhaps most important question of all though is whether Westminster’s controllers are smart enough to cut and run if that is actually the best thing to do for all concerned, or to try and dig themselves into the trenches while they keep raking in the cash no matter how much egg gets thrown.

Far be it for me to predict or proscribe what will happen next, but I just found a little something that may show how smart or inappropriately smug the bike park tax pioneers are. While on a hunt for something else on the web, I found some extraordinary admissions by our hero/villain of the hour, Alistair Gilchrist. Now I doubt that any of these will surprise those who read my musings – but the fact that they are just sitting there may at the very least raise a wry smile. Anyway, according to Alistair, Westminster City Council were the bad boys on the UK’s billion pound parking enforcement industry block back in 2003. He made this admission as the senior officer responsible for parking services in a recent conference and his Power Point Presentation can be seen in all its glory here.

Alistair was clearly so confident at the time about the council’s plans to expand the scope of parking tax schemes that he showed examples of public anger at the council’s abuse of its power in the ‘bad old days’ – and this note (left) of what some of the public really think about promises that all will be fine in the future. The question now is, was he right to be so confident then or now?

It seems to me that despite great efforts to rid themselves of that ‘bad boy’ parking cash-cow squeezing image, the reputation of those in charge of parking controls in the heart of London could be about to plunge to even greater depths. If it soldiers on with this new tax scheme, the council will have to face more battles and on several fronts. The audit commission has begun investigating the way that contracts were awarded to Verrus, and the EU Commissioners are about to start their own investigation into other complaints about the way hat this was handled.

So, all of us who are concerned with or about the prospect of new taxes for PTW riders are left with a few questions to consider. Will Westminster City Council now decide that it’s ‘experiment’ to impose a new tax on motorbikes and scooter riders is not really the best way to go – and especially in very tough times for most of us? Or, will they continue to try and get away with making it a permanent and growing part of UK life for riders, and a new source of revenue stream for a council near you? Or, lastly for now, will rage against this new tax machine prototype become the ultimately decisive factor?

* This headline has a root in the title of a film & book called All Quite On The Western Front. This is in part about gaps in understanding of reality between front line fighters & those in power who create situations in which hard battles sometimes need to be fought and won. There are many plot reviews out there but this summary has fewer ads for dentistry and explains the title in the end.

Hope y’all had a Happy Christmas for those who believe in that sort of thing, and have a Cool Yule & New Year for those with faith in other reasons to be cheerful!

pixel All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control pubic opinion can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals...