How to turn what appears to be a reasonable parking rate into an unreasonable one.

We had a week away on holiday in the south-east recently and decided to go and be all touristy in London. Rather than drive into London and pay petrol, congestion charge and expensive car parking, we decided instead to drive to Tunbridge Wells and take the train from there.

After struggling to find anywhere to park at the railway station, we were directed to the council’s Torrington car park where we bought a pay and display ticket, parked up and went on our way. On our return, we found a penalty charge notice stuck on our windscreen demanding £60 (reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days). Here’s our appeal:

“Dear Sirs,

Following my telephone call to your office this morning, I would like to appeal against a penalty notice I received on 15 August 2007 whilst parked legally (as far as we were concerned) in your Torrington car park. We were holidaymakers staying locally and had decided to have a day trip to London.

We drove to the station to park, but could only find “premier permit” (if I recall correctly) parking spaces and we had no idea what that meant so we asked a station worker who directed us to the Torrington car park.

On our arrival there, we were confronted by a sign and two ticket machines. The sign says this:

Car Park Sign

As you can see, the sign says that railway day tickets can only be purchased for the machines at “the south eastern trains entrance” and we did not want to drive back out and head around to the station to buy a ticket from their machines.

Instead, we used one of the blue machines on the ramp and put in the maximum sum it would accept. As I explained to your staff this morning, the ticket machines on the ramp to your car park are not marked in any way to differentiate them from other pay and display machines and indeed they were the only ticket machines on the entry ramp, so we naturally assumed they were valid machines for this car park:

Ticket Machine

We did notice the section about a £2 rebate for rail users but did not avail ourselves of this rebate.

Having bought a ticket which was valid until 4.00am on 16 August 2007, we then drove into the largely empty car park and parked in a bay.

On our return, we found a penalty notice fixed to the windscreen. On enquiry this morning, we were told following your staff member looking at the parking attendant’s photograph of our ticket, that the ticket was a rail user ticket so we should have known and parked in a red bay. Looking at the ticket and also the machine which says “Central Parking System”, how were we supposed to know this?

Pay and Display Ticket

We were always prepared to pay the full price for parking and had assumed from the information clearly visible to us that that was exactly what we had done. We are not local residents and therefore unaware of the peculiarities of your parking systems: our local car park at Norwich next to the station has two ticket machines per entrance lane and you simply validate your ticket at the railway station for a reduced rate and pay as you return to your vehicle. The system is simple and works faultlessly.

Accordingly, we wish to appeal against the penalty charge notice and await your reply.

Yours faithfully”

I copied this to Southeastern for their comment and reply using the e-mail address they gave me over the telephone. It bounced. I rang them again and was told they do not have an e-mail address any more for customers to contact them through. Maybe they were fed up with having to handle customer complaints?