THE new controversial operators of Grays shopping centre’s multi-story car park have been slammed after fining a man £60 through what he describes as a ‘trick’ meter.
The ‘Smart Parking’ company took over managing the multi-story at Grays last year – just days after a borough MP had criticised the company in parliament and called on the government to investigate its methods.
East Thurrock MP Stephen Metcalfe highlighted a large number of complaints about the way the company operates the Westgate car park in Basildon – and he has been joined by a number of other MPs across the country who also have Smart parking operated sites in their constituencies. The company has been condemned for its ‘systematic and blatant exploitation’ of motorists.
In December, just months after completing the acquisition of Grays Shopping centre, its new owners NewRiver, announced they had struck a deal with Smart Parking to manage the 700 space multi-story car park.
Making the announcement Hugh Sancroft-Baker, Associate Director at NewRiver, said: ““Smart Parking, one of the UK’s leading car park management companies, will be taking over management of the car park and we are delighted to able to offer not only an improved service but our shoppers will now benefit from free parking for the first three hours where previously they had to pay.”
However, they have now been accused of trying to make money by covert action by a motorist who thought he had paid the requisite amount to cover six hours parking, including the free three hours, but he ended up with a fine.
Grays resident Steven Farren tells his story: “I have lived in Grays all my life, I used Grays multi-storey car park for years and in that time I have never received a fine in relation to parking. If a fee is due I pay it. It would appear that the only reason I have received this fine is because of the underhand tactics the new operator of the car park has used to trick me into being fined on this occasion.
“Having now done some research I do not deny that it appears I underpaid for my parking when I used the car park on 21 January 2019. I parked from 9.39am to 17.11pm and I should have paid £6.
“What bothers me is that when I put my registration number into the machine to pay, “£3 came up on the screen and so I did what any reasonable person would do in that situation, paid £3.
“What I have now learnt is that I should have pressed a button to increase my fee, I have never known a ticket machine to work in this way?
“To me, displaying £3 is tricking people into thinking that is what to pay when it fact it is not. I don’t really care if there was some small print telling me to do something else, when a ticket machine says “£3” you just pay £3. When you have a queue behind you waiting to use the machine you do not have time to read all the rules, t’s & c’s, you just want to do what you think is a simple thing, pay for your parking and go.
“I don’t mind admitting I have been caught out, but is that really the message you want to be sending out, that you want your customers “caught out” when genuinely trying to pay for parking? All you will end up doing is alienating more people from visiting the centre, I certainly will think twice before using the car park again.
“Luckily I am paid a reasonable salary and so I can get by with the £60 fine but Grays is not the wealthiest place in the country and I feel sorry for anyone less well off than me who have been tricked by these sneaky tactics.”
In a message to NewRiver, he says: “You may want to pass the blame onto the parking company, but last time I knew, you owned the car park and so you should at least be making sure the system in place is fair and simple to use. I have learnt, from having to pay a £60 fine that it is not.
“Thurrock Council are doing their best to try and get Grays Town Centre regenerated, its these sort of things that will further damage its already poor reputation and footfall will decline even further.”