Volunteer biker gang foils Westminster CCTV car fleet
Unamused council watches cash trickle through fingers
A band of bikers have recently taken to helping motorists in Westminster identify the London borough's fleet of CCTV smart cars.
The ominous grinding sound in the background is either the sound of gears being changed – or Westminster council welcoming the move from between gritted teeth.
The present confrontation follows a decision by Westminster Council to introduce smart cars in Central London, fitted with four-foot high protruding cameras, "to monitor road safety problem areas".
The council further explains that "the cars will complement the existing network of CCTV cameras and Civil Enforcement Officers".
They are out to "enforce both moving traffic contraventions and parking contraventions through the capture of moving images". However, they are absolutely not a revenue-generation wheeze.
More recently, leader of Westminster Council Colin Barrow was reported to have been calling for an "army of volunteers" to help the state to "develop and deliver local services which had their roots in community provision" - such as libraries and social care.
This was music to the ears of nutsville, a site dedicated to "highlighting corruption, deceit and plain old incompetence in local London councils". They have since set about encouraging, if not directly organising, an army of volunteer bikers to ensure that the smart cars do not inadvertently over-step the mark and start generating revenue.
A Pathé News-style film of the volunteer motorcyclists in action "in their jolly yellow vests helping to escort the council's camera cars around the borough" can be found on Youtube .
A jaunty voice-over adds "what a splendidly invigorating sight it is!", before concluding: "Motorists have said hats off to the plucky motorcyclists. This is a truly spiffing way to save money. Three cheers for these community-minded motorcyclists".
A rather less amused Councillor Lee Rowley, Westminster council's cabinet member for parking, said: "The council's two CCTV cars both have 15 foot cameras and large signage to make them clearly visible and easy for motorists to spot, so I'm not sure that this is the best use of the motorcyclists' time.
"I have already suggested that if these motorcyclists want to volunteer in Westminster I'd be happy to put them in contact with one of the many hundreds of good causes that would welcome additional support, and that offer still stands."
* We have been unable to clarify the precise length of the camera extension. A modest four foot according to the press office - or an implausibly eye-watering 15, as described by Councillor Rowley? Possibly the latter refers to it in its extended state - or is that simply a perk of office? ®
The councils make the law an ass
I once - somewhat naively - argued the case for cameras, believing that the underlying motive was a desire to prevent death and injury. But harsh experience has proved to me that the people who behind this are equipped with nothing more than a cash register.
I was photographed pulling into a carpark, which necessitated crossing a bus lane, and received a penalty notice for driving in a bus lane. I objected, pointing out that I was merely parking and had not travelled any significant distance in the lane. Reality arrived in the form of a standard rejection notice basically setting out how I could spend huge amounts of time and money taking the complaint to appeal (in the knowledge that practically no one would want to do so).
This event has not merely demolished my illusion that cameras having something to do with safety. What can you think of a governing body that penalises citizens who are striving to uphold the rules we have agreed on? It makes a mockery - an ass - of the whole system.
The Council may run a couple of cars of their own, but the $camera cars actually being "assisted" are run by NSL, a strictly for-profit private business contracted by WCC but not subject to anything as inconvenient as FOI requests.
The NSL vehicles are teeny Smart / IQ cars with small periscopes and minimal signage. Their favourite ploy is to hide behind other vehicles near badly signed junctions and churn out £60 PCNs to confused motorists who turn the wrong way. On Saturday, one of them was caught sitting at a "no right turn" junction that had a temporary sign up directing all traffic to, yes, turn right. Your guess is as good as mine as to which way you're supposed to go to avoid a PCN, if there even was a correct answer.
They DO NOT monitor criminal offences like speeding, mobile phone use, or seatbelt infractions, although their operators will happily lie through their teeth about that. They also regularly abandon their vehicles on double yellows or resident's bays while they go and buy lunch with the proceeds of their muggings.
Since WCC's stated goal is "100% compliance with no penalties", there's really not a lot they can say about bikers alerting traffic to the presence of the $camera cars and directing them at junctions so that they avoid PCNs.
Curiously, the NSL cars don't seem to see is this way, and usually take off like a shot when the bikers arrive to assist them. Initially, the NSL crews blubbed to the rozzers about being assisted: the response was along the lines of "Point out anything illegal and we'll take an interest", followed by a sotto vocce "Good luck, lads, ride safe" to the bikers.
The current NSL tactic is to try to lose their escorts by speeding and jumping red lights - what a sterling contribution to road safety!
Anyway, it's all great fun, and you can follow the larks on twitter at http://twitter.com/NoToMob normally on Wednesdays and Saturdays - sightings of $scamera cars always welcome.
Parking Violations you say?
Like leaving your CCTV Camera car sat on double yellows?