A blogger claiming to have superpowers has exposed a flaw in a parking company's vehicle recognition system which could see innocent drivers wrongly hit with fines.
Going under the name Parking Prankster, the activist set out to discover whether he could trick automated systems used by private parking companies into issuing him with a penalty notice.
He visited his local shopping centre's car parks twice in one day and found that the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems would fail to notice the car leaving, resulting in a parking ticket being issued for a lengthy overstay.
After making a two visits to a carpark in Yate Shopping Centre, Bristol, and buying a correct ticket for each visit, the Prankster was sent a parking fine by London-based private parking company Highview Parking, which describes itself as the "leading provider of ANPR products and solutions to the industry".
The blogger's letter appealing against the fine said: "As my car was not parked at this location between the times stated, I can only assume that you have made a mistake."
Fortunately for the last few years I have begun to suspect that I am cultivating superpowers. I believe this is because I may have been bitten by a radioactive spider when I was a child. The particular superpower I possess is to cancel any parking charge notice issued to me.
Incredulous parking staff promptly wrote back, dismissing the appeal: "We are unable to accept your claim that you have superpowers and your claim bears no relevance to this matter whatsoever."
The parking blogger then launched a further dispute with the independent body Parking On Private Land Appeals (POPLA), who have the power to revoke tickets.
Writing to the appeals body to defend their decision to issue a fine for overstaying, Highview Parking said: "We received an appeal, in the loosest possible sense of the word, from The Parking Prankster on the basis that he was bitten by a radioactive spider and, as such, has superpowers which include cancelling any Parking Charge Notice issued to him. His appeal was rejected on the grounds that we are unable to accept his claim, which bears no relevance to a serious appeals process."
"You are therefore essentially being asked to assess and comment on the case of a deliberately evasive and deceitful driver who wishes to make a mockery of the issue of Parking Charge Notices and the appeals process thereafter," the letter continued.
But the Prankster had both of his valid parking tickets, as well as time-stamped photographs proving his car was elsewhere during the period in question.
After seeing his evidence, POPLA accepted the appeal and cancelled the ticket. Highview Parking's CCTV footage of the car was also dismissed as evidence because it was in a format that could not be read by POPLA's appeal staff.
The Parking Prankster told The Register that people who are given parking tickets should learn from his example.
"The Parking Operator refused to believe that my car was elsewhere, even when presented with the full POPLA evidence pack," he said, "including photographs with GPS location and date, CCTV evidence, receipts, emails and everything but the kitchen sink.
"That strengthens my belief that the Parking Operator appeal phase is nothing but a sham. However, a properly worded POPLA appeal is currently being upheld almost 100% of the time. That means almost all tickets can be cancelled."
The activist also defended his rather peculiar approach to challenging the parking industry:
I have a mental view of the typical parking company office being overseen by a Basil Fawlty-like manager, while poor underpaid Manuel and Polly hurry around trying to clean up his mess.
He added: "As well as the serious part of my appeal, I always include some light-hearted fun to brighten up their day. I assume that most people are rude and horrible to the people reading the appeals, so a bit of humour helps them through their thankless work."
We tried to contact Highview Parking for comment but were told it was "company policy" to refuse to answer questions from journalists.
"We don't accept calls of this kind," they told The Register. ®