Cambridge town and gown have been scratching their heads over a difficult question relating to parking charges.
Neither the University nor the parking department in Cambridge has a reputation for sloppy thinking so why are local residents accusing the council of encouraging illegal parking in the city by setting tariffs in a central car park which exceed the cost of a penalty ticket?
The car park they are highlighting is the aptly named ‘Grand Arcade’ where on weekdays it will cost £25 for a full day’s parking (8am – 5pm) and £1 per hour thereafter until the following morning. So for people who want to park there for 24 hours the bill would be £40. At the weekend the tariff rises to £42.
Local councillors now seem embarrassed that they failed to compare the cost of parking in the City’s most expensive car park for a stay of 24 hours (£40/42) with the cost of a parking fine paid at the reduced rate in the car park (£25), or the cost of a fine for parking on double yellow lines at the reduced rate (£35). But should they be?
The large majority of motorists are law abiding citizens who do not knowingly want to contravene whatever regulations are in place. They are likely to pay for their parking and will not be swayed by the difference in parking and penalty prices.
To suggest that motorists would prefer to park on double yellow lines for 24 hours and pay a penalty of £35, rather than park legally in a off-street safe site for £42 is perverse. Those few motorists who might attempt this could be dealt with in other ways.
The RAC Foundation would argue that the fault here lies not with Cambridge City Council but with the ‘one size fits all’ directives on penalty charge notices from the Department for Transport. The cost of a penalty charge notice is set by central government, not by local authorities. Outside London it is either £50 or £70 depending on the reason it has been issued. Payments made within 14 days have a 50% discount applied.
Clearly this flat rate is illogical. It leads to situations such as we have in Cambridge and in cities at the other end of the scale, where motorists are fined £25 for 10 minutes too long in a car park costing only 60p an hour.
It would be a fallacy to conclude the way out of this situation is to raise the penalty charge limit, which is surely what Cambridge is hoping for since they could easily have reduced the cost of parking to below the PCN charge to avoid this debacle. What is needed is a more sophisticated solution to ensure the punishment fits the crime. One such might be to scrap the national penalty charge and replace it with a formula better reflecting the tariff in the car park. That way, Cambridge councillors could charge what they like, sleep easy, and the rest of us would not suffer a hike in the cost of PCNs.
The railways have already adopted a model of proportionate penalties. If a passenger gets on a train without a ticket, they will have to pay a penalty fare. The penalty is currently £20 or twice the full single fare from the station where the passenger got on the train to the next station at which the train stops, whichever is the greater. If the passenger wants to travel beyond the next station, they must also pay the relevant fare from that station to their final destination.
If the railways can understand the concept of proportionality surely those responsible for setting parking penalty limits can do so too.