MP calls for crack down on 'rip off' car parks

MPs have backed a call from Nick Smith, the Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, for a change in the law to stop car park operators putting up signs that confuse motorists into incurring penalty charges. Mr Smith said he had received a series of complaints from drivers in his own constituency.

This is a straightforward Bill. It will get a better deal for the motorist and stop them being ripped off at car parks. Misleading and confusing signs are inexcusable; it should be simple to get the signs and pay machines right.

Last autumn, angry constituents came to see me when a new operator took over a town centre car park in Ebbw Vale. Within weeks, I had received a flood of complaints from blue badge holders. There were criticisms about signage, and about a complicated payment system in which drivers had to enter their car registration number into a fiddly key pad. I am fed up with poor signage in car parks that confuses and confounds the motorist. At that car park in my constituency, motorists were told, in micro-print:

'Do not leave the car park to retrieve change in order to purchase a valid ticket'.

The fact that they are unable to read that instruction before entry makes it hard for the motorist to do the right thing; it also helps the operator to pocket fines.

– Nick Smith MP

Mr Smith said his constituents had faced £40 penalty charges after making a genuine mistake. He said that he was worried about a developing business model for car parking, where the landowner receives all of the the hourly charge income. The car park operator keeps any extra charges and so benefits from confusing signs. He warned that the practice is driving consumers out of town centres. The MP's proposal, introduced as a ten minute rule bill has little chance of becoming law unless the government decides to support a change in the law.