Sunday, 31 August 2008

Pay & Display

One of the benefits of travelling a foreign country is being able to listen to local radio. While being driven by Jo's mother across country England, we had the pleasure of listening to talk-back radio.
Now, I'm not about to express my opinion on talk-back radio in full detail (I don't see why I should be spending precious conscious time listening to idiots I would normally prefer to avoid). Yet the topic of discussion was interesting in its stupidity: Should “we” (as in, Brits) go travelling overseas, or should we explore the UK first and exclusively? As per the program's format, they actually brought in people to represent both sides.
Personally, I can think of some very good reasons why one would not want to or be unable to go travelling out of their native country. However, not leaving one's country simply due to an accident of birth, as in being born in that particular country and having enough nationalistic pride not to dream of going elsewhere, does not constitute a legitimate reason in my book. It's more like a display of ignorance, as in not being able to see that international borders are a rather stupid human invention which can vary quite a lot over time due to a multitude of reasons (most of which do not make sense).
That said, travel in England has enabled me to come up with many a good reason for Brits to want to leave their country as often as possible when a vacation is on the agenda. One of those reasons is called “Pay & Display”.
Pay & Display is the parking convention used in areas near tourist attractions. You park, you pay a ticket machine, and you stick your ticket on your car window. Pretty conventional, you say; every place has some sort of a parking fee collection mechanism. Yet English Pay & Display systems are unique: First, they are a major rip-off, with rather phenomenal parking costs.
Second, these ticket machines are pure evil: the one we've had the pleasure of using yesterday at the resort town of Skegness, for example, offered us the options of parking for two hours (2.50 GBP) or the full day (6.50 GBP). This doesn't sound too bad until you realize the machine doesn't accommodate for intermidiates: Want to park for, say, 3 hours (the way we did)? Well then, open your wallet wide and pay for the entire day. In our case, though, the lack of coins meant we settled with two hours of parking. But wait; we only had 3 GBP in coins, as opposed to the required 2.50. Do you think we got our change back? And do you think we were compensated with an extra half hour?
Third, the parking facilities themselves are so crap that parking there is asking for trouble. At York Castles' parking facilities, for example, the parking spaces were the narrowest I have ever seen and the shortest I have ever seen. I would have never allowed my Honda CR-V in there, nor do I think it would have fit in the first place. What we did see there, by the way, is a Toyota scratching a Kia and then getting away (I took a photo and left my card for the Kia owner, but so far I didn't hear from them).
The fourth problem with the pay & display system and with the concept of travel in England is much more generic. You pay through your nose to go anywhere here - out of all the countries I've been to England is really doing its hardest to get your cash - but way too many times the attractions you're paying to get to are, well, shit. Take that Skegness beach resort town as an example: it is absolutely horrible, both in its attractions and the nature of its human population. To quote our guide for the day, "hold on to your gold".
Those that limit their travels to their country alone are missing out on so much this world has to offer, and they're not even aware of what they're missing. I invite Brits to visit Australia, where the pays & displays are rare and those that are there are humane and worth the effort.

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