I live in one of the most marginal constituencies in the country. I was quite sure which way I was voting, but this morning’s surprise in my inbox has sealed the deal for all time.
I was sent a black and white scan of a penalty charge notice from Transport for London, something I’ve never seen before. Apparently, ‘Transport for London had reasonable cause to believe’ that I had trampled all over Contravention code 31 by ‘entering and stopping in a box junction when prohibited’.
It’s clear that this junction at the southern edge of London’s Battersea Bridge has become a cash-cow for TFL. The nearby Albert Bridge is closed until summer 2011, so all the traffic heading north of the Thames has to squeeze onto the bridge’s single north-bound lane.
I rang TFL to ask how two grainy black and white images were evidence of stopping in a box junction. The chap on the end of the line told me that I could go to Croydon to watch the film of my offence or send TFL £10 in exchange for a DVD copy of the film.
However, he then gave me a very useful tip. If I went on-line and went through the credit card payment procedure, there was the option of seeing the pictures in glorious techni-colour before coughing up.
And yes, it seems that my rear wheels were inside the box for a full six seconds – something that’s hard to tell from the driver’s seat.
The fine for causing complete traffic chaos on London’s strategic road network was £60, but only if I coughed up in 28 days from the date on the penalty notice. Any later and it would be £120.
Can a £60 fine for this less-than-minor infraction be in any sense fair?
Contrast this with the Government’s attitude towards shoplifting. In 2005, it introduced a £80 fixed penalty fine for the ‘theft of goods valued at less than £200’. The fine also meant that the thief did not get a criminal record.
By 2007 it was clear that the fixed penalty scheme had become a licence to shoplift. The British Retail Consortium claimed the repeated issue of fines, rather than bringing charges for repeat offences, had encouraged persistent shoplifters, especially when the average cost of the goods stolen was £150.
Even so, it took until July last year for the law to be changed so that only first time offenders could benefit from the fixed penalty regime.
How can it be that a government can equate my ‘crime’ with a shoplifter who is trying to scarper with £199 of stolen goods? After all, we get a similar fine and neither of us will get a criminal record.
I think bicycling David Cameron has missed a huge trick. He could have promised to re-balance the insane motoring fine regime that Labour has spent the last 13 years constructing.
Meanwhile. my views on the current Government must be reserved for the privacy of the ballot box.