I was intrigued by this article on the BBC’s website Supermarket parking limits ‘breach’ disability laws Which claims that many supermarkets, by now limiting parking time for all customers to 2 hours, are in breach of the law by discriminating against disabled people parking in their car parks.
It’s a fairly innocuous piece – resisting the temptation to rant about non-disabled people (or people who don’t look as if they have a disability) parking in disabled bays ( although they’ve looked at this in the past : “‘Shocking’ rise in disabled parking abuse” (2004) ); and steering well clear of the “disabled people = benefit fraudsters” angle that some sources might have taken. It can be looked at in so many different ways though.
At first glance it does seem rather unfair not to give disabled people a fair chance to park freely – after all Blue Badge disabled parking generally allows up to three hours parking even on double yellow lines – so well done the BBC for flagging this up.
A second level of inspection would be to investigate the reasons why the supermarkets are limiting time, and the legal framework around disabled parking. Well supermarkets have started to do this partly because many of them have increased the size of their stores by building over parts of their car parks, and spaces are often reduced – so to ensure that spaces are available to customers they introduce restrictions. The other part of that equation is that in many supermarket car parks – especially those near town centres, or facilities like railway stations, non-costumers have often blocked spaces in the past by parking there for long periods of time. Hence the two hour limit.
Does this discriminate against disabled people though ? Well the provider of the service (the supermarket) has a duty to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to ensure that it is not unreasonably difficult or impossible for a disabled person to have access to that service . Which clearly they do if they provide parking spaces reserved for disabled people. Note that there is no compulsion to make these available free of charge. So the question of whether disabled people are discriminated against would appear to revolve around whether they charge more for disabled people to access the disabled spaces (which as far as I’m aware they do not), and whether it is reasonable to expect a disabled person to complete their shopping and leave within 2 hours. I would argue that it usually is.
In any event, I’ve known many supermarkets waive the two hour limit during busy periods such as in the lead up to Christmas on production of a till receipt. I actually don’t know anyone who’s been fined for a supermarket parking violation. So on closer inspection this becomes a little bit of a non-story. I feel also that any problems that do exist, would be very easily overcome by making the disabled bays four hours, rather than two.
So contrary to what the BBC says, they don’t seem to be breaking the law. Even if they were, it would seem to be an oversight that can be very quickly remedied
There’s another level still at which we could look at this story though. The supermarkets are private companies. They don’t have to provide parking spaces, they don’t have to make them free, and they don’t have to make any of them disabled bays. Neither do they have to impose a two hour limit.
They choose to do all these things.
What I’d like to have seen the BBC’s article explore is not what the supermarket is compelled to do, but what benefits the supermarkets could provide to the communities in which they exist, simply by choosing to do things a little differently – and wouldn’t we all be grateful if they did ?
As an example – the South Bedfordshire commuter town where I live has experienced problems in the past from commuters leaving their cars in Tesco’s car park, and then clearing off to London for the day. It may save them six quid – but isn’t particularly fair on either Tesco’s or their customers.
On the other hand, parents of children at Town Centre schools often use the same car park when attending Parents Evenings and other events during weekday evenings, and despite the car park to the 24 hour store being virtually empty at this time, many have returned to find their cars locked in the car park, or with leaflets threatening future fines if they repeat this “offence” again. To Tesco’s credit, I have not heard of any parent fined (or locked in for long) in an incident of this type.
It would be so much more public spirited of them though, if they approached the schools and said – if you let us know when you have events planned you can use 50 spaces in the car park – tell us when it is, and use those 50 over there.
In fact there are a great many occasions when the sheer volume of space which they have, could greatly improve congestion and convenience in the Town Centre with just a little more goodwill from the Supermarkets – and I’m sure that’s the case all over the country – and for a good many other retailers and other businesses as well.
Companies like the Supermarket giants, make up such a large part of our urban, and even rural, landscapes around the country – and are amongst the most profitable organisations in our society. Surely their responsibility – not legal responsibility but moral responsibility – extends beyond generating profits for their shareholders – surely if they want to be deserving of our money, they should be able to use their corporate might to make things easier for everybody – car parking, disabled parking, work experience, hosting of community services – these should be just the tip of the ice berg.
Of course none of them would have to do this – they should choose to do this as good citizens – good corporate citizens. I’d like to see a lot more of this, and I’d like to see Governments taking steps to encourage it as well – perhaps by means of tax incentives for companies who “put something back” to the communities which they are a part of, and from which they derive their profits.
So if anyone out there is putting finishing touches to manifestos this weekend – please bear it in mind !
[ The Baywatch Campaign is a campaign to stop abuse of disabled parking in supermarket car parks; I've used the Equality & Human Rights website's section on Disability in putting together this article, together with the handbook that comes with a Blue Badge disabled parking permit ]