Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Things that make you go "Hmmm..."

This is a story of frustration, starring a miscarriage of justice (albeit a small one) and a ridiculous website data protection policy. If you just want to see a picture of my car, jump to the end.

At the beginning of December, I parked in a loading bay in a side street off the main Red Route through Tooting to drop off some bulky dry cleaning and post a large box. It took me longer than expected (there was a queue in the post office), but I was out within the 20 minutes allocated by the sign on the loading bay. I came out to a parking ticket and I was very cross.

When I got home, I rang Transport for London (TfL) to find out why I'd been given this ticket. The chap at the other end said that wardens were within their rights to give out tickets if there was no activity by the vehicle within two to five minutes. (My warden had waited the full five minutes to see what I was up to.) I pointed out that the bay referred to 20 minutes of loading time and that I thought the sign was misleading and he said "You and thousands of other Londoners!" and told me I could appeal.

So I gathered up the receipts that proved I had been gainfully employed (un)loading during the time on the ticket. I sent them off with a letter explaining about the size of the parcel, the weight of the dry cleaning and the length of the queue in the post office. It was a fine letter.

I waited. ...Lots of people appealed successfully, I heard.

Well, I didn't. I got a note the day after the Boxing Day bank holiday, saying that the activities of visiting dry cleaners and post offices didn't count.

Now, if I had been holding up a busy road, I might understand TfL's reluctance to countenance the performance of such everyday chores, but the road is a quiet backwater, accessible in only one direction and occasionally used by buses. The dry cleaner's outside which I parked had won that loading bay by appealing to the local MP because they were worried about the impact of the Red Route on their business. It was, needless to say, a Red Route marking that they were having trouble understanding since they weren't even on a real route as such.

So, I decided that I would do two things - I would pay the fine, so that it didn't spiral to the £100 maximum. That meant parting with £50. To put it in context, it costs me £40 a year to park round the corner where I live. (If it hadn't been such an awkward load, I'd have walked with it. But it was an occasion when the car was a real boon... I thought.)

I also decided to share the illogicality of the episode with the Evening Standard, since they seem to hate TfL as the mantle of their arch-opponent Ken Livingstone. I have always appreciated what TfL is trying to do, but I hate misinformation and I am still cross that I got fined for doing something so utterly sensible because of bureaucratic stupidity.

But it didn't end there. I went on the Web to pay. And I found I was expected to give my consent to all sorts of things that the paper version didn't require:

Data protection notice
Transport for London (TfL) and its agents will process your information for the enforcement of traffic offences and traffic management administration.

The data will be used by TfL and its agents, London local authorities and may be disclosed to other law enforcement agencies for those purposes, and when it is considered necessary for the prevention and detection of crime, and when otherwise legally required.

If you click on the "I agree" button we will process your payment details.

This is the message you see after filling in four screens of data. So I went back to the paper version and entered all my details again - because I chose to disagree, but that implied my data would not be processed. Interestingly, on paper, I only had to write in about a third of the amount. And I was left feeling there is some chance that my details won't be sent to every enforcement agency in the country. Not that I'm going to offend regularly, but when I do, I'd like to be pursued by just one overly eager agency at a time, thank you.

The only charm of having visited the website is that I got to see my "Contravention Images".

Date of Issue: 05-12-2005 13.51
Penalty charge amount: £50.00
Contravention images: Click here for contravention pictures

This was two pictures of my car, proving it was my car. Yes, there it was...

I saved the more informative image, so that I could include it here (left), because I was a bit bemused. I haven't tampered with it at all - it really didn't capture the scenery around the vehicle, or show a time stamp. So it was inadequate as a record. But it was quite funny. And it's interesting that wardens now have digital cameras as part of their prosecution equipment.

I am intending to add my own snap of the area to reveal the extent of my crime, when I've had a chance to go and take one. (March 2006: ...and here they are... quiet, isn't it?)


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