Tag: Westminster

Expat Caught in the Congestion Zone

Westminster…argh! Actually, I love the borough, lived in it for twelve of the nearly seventeen years I have been in London. But I hate driving there, with the exception of Belgravia and Knightsbridge. Hate it! And they must hate drivers like me coming there, too—not sure whether to zoom or potter. All we want is a parking space, just one.

Hence, the congestion zone – that ought to keep us out. I thought so too, but today I went inside the controlled zone, unintentionally, of course. Blinking Sat Nav. Someone has to accept the blame.

If only I had listened to my gut instinct, I would have parked in my old neighbourhood and walked to my destination. Oh no, I thought I could get right to the edge of the zone, sit the car down and walk merrily to Run and Become.

Not only did I end up blocks away from the store, but also when I at last got there, the shop was closed for staff holidays. If only I had listened to my gut instinct, I would have telephoned  in advance. But honestly, who has ever heard of such a shop closing in the height of running season?

Okay, it is the end of the summer but my current shoes are so out of date that it is no longer funny. As much as I run, I am told that I could do with a new pair of shoes every three months. Forget it, maybe every six months, but the truth is, I haven’t bought any since last June or July. No wonder my feet are not amused, my knees either.

Never mind, I still have to pay this charge of  £11.50 on top of the £2.00 that I paid to park. Ouch that’s more than $22. Not to mention the petro. And forget about all the time I planned to save by taking the car. I lost that driving around, looking for parking and then walking to the closed shop.

So what would a train fare have been? I dare not say.  But all is not lost, not really. I had a sightseeing tour around Westminster, finally saw where the St James Park tube station is, and passed by the New Scotland Yard. Also, I saw numerous trendy coffee shops. Under different circumstances, I might have tried out at least one.

But anxious to get out of dodge, I settled for stopping into Boots, the chemist, for some eye drops of all things. There, I can see clearly now. So I am told there is a great running shop in Kensington, nowhere near the congestion zone. Settled, out of it at last.

Pay by the Phone Parking, the Secret is Out

Driving in London can be rather hectic, owing to volume of traffic, road works, and various road users (cyclists, motorists, runners), which is why I drive as little as possible.

But since I moved slightly further afield, I find myself wheeling out the car at least once per week, sometimes twice. Who would have ever thought it? Small town girl confidently takes to London’s roads. Recently, two friends commended me on this very thing.

Enough bragging. There is a reason for my madness. The daughter of a retired defensive driving trainer, I happen to like driving and consider it a route to freedom, except when I can’t find a parking meter.

Thank goodness for the ‘pay by phone’ parking meters in Westminster, my main hang- out. Here is how it works:

Once parked, you read the number on the meter or sign, make a phone call and pay, having already registered with the service. For smart phone users (that’s me), it’s even easier. You download the QuickPark app on your phone, register with the service, and after parking simply enter the meter’s number into the app and follow prompts.

In both cases, you usually receive a confirmation text message from the City of Westminster within seconds, unless, of course, something’s gone wrong.

And as with Murphy’s Law, whatever can go wrong will, especially with the app. As with all apps, there are glitches to work out, updates, etc. Still, in the meantime, you can be on your merry way and sort out the immediate hiccup over the telephone.

Better yet, you needn’t rush back to the car to feed the meter with coins to extend your time. All you have to do is extend from the app, send a text or make a quick call. Hassle free, right. Well it used to be until someone tipped off everybody else.

Now I find myself circling around like a vulture, looking for one space, just one. When I can’t find one, I resort to parking in Chelsea, old school style—feeding the meter with coins. The problem here is not the coins. I always have coins when driving. It’s gauging the time. If it is too little, you have to rush back to the car to avoid a ticket, if it is too much, you’ve blown a wad of money.

A few years ago when Westminster introduced ‘pay by phone’ parking meters, I was naively outraged. What about visitors who don’t have a registered credit card, I asked? All I could think of were the times when Paul and I drove around in Edinburgh, Paris, any major city, looking for a parking space. Oh how we felt sweetly relieved when we found one, just one.

The thought of having to find yet another (like finding a needle in a haystack) due to not being registered made me speak up to anyone who would listen.

People will simply not come, I insisted.  This was also said about congestion charges, the £10 per day charge to drive in certain zones in Central London. Never mind!

Anyhow, I was assured that ‘pay by phone’ meters would revolutionise parking in Central London, cutting out the scramble for coins and the race back to meters to avoid parking fines, and so it has.

Pity, the word got out so soon. Anyhow, I know other boroughs offer the option; for instance, Lambeth. But I don’t drive there. Da! Now someone just needs to convince Kensington and Chelsea to get on board, but quietly, please!