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Posts Tagged ‘council parking’

Richard Littlejohn writes in today’s Daily Mail about parking in Bromsgrove where a motorist was fined for overstaying in a car park after having bought a ticket, whilst travellers who had not bought a ticket were not fined because ‘they were occupying the space illegally’ . Littlejohn says he could fill his column every week with stories of ‘vindictive traffic wardens, insane parking restrictions, crippling fines and grasping bureaucrats.’ His solution to the debacle in Bromsgrove – refuse to pay your ticket by saying that you are not actually parking, just illegally occupying the bay – is not one that the RAC Foundation would support, but it is time local authorities got their parking houses in order.

In contrast, two days ago John Evans and Dominic Tobin wrote in the Sunday Times about the parking utopia that Swindon has become. No vindictive enforcement or grasping councillors there. Swindon has set its town centre stall out to attract car-borne shoppers with an enthusiasm that would have those who seek to control car-ownership through parking measures jumping up and down.

But maybe Swindon can see something, also identified by Pickles, which has been threatened by attitudes towards parking, and it’s not just footfall in the high street. In July this year, Mr Pickles’ Department published the following:

We believe that people can come together in strong, united communities if we encourage and support them to:

  • have shared aspirations, values and experiences
  • have a strong sense of mutual commitments and obligations, promoting personal and social responsibility

 Every time someone finds that a few minutes parking results in a fine of £50 or more, and that this is apparently legal, and that the local authority has supported it, he or she stands a good chance of losing faith in the rule of law and respect for the local authority.

No town or city could run efficiently with the chaos that would result from a ‘park anywhere at anytime’ regime. But not all enforcement results in smoother traffic flow. Why enforce for a few minutes overstay in a near empty car park? Why risk alienating local residents or visitors with a fine when other strategies could be used?

In Auckland all time-limits from on-street pay and display parking in the city centre have been removed and instead increasing tariffs are relied on to manage demand: the longer you park, the more expensive it becomes per hour. However, if you are parking for less than ten minutes it’s free.

This means that every parking space in the city has become a potential pick up or drop off space. So motorists no longer have to fear a ticket for dropping off a parcel or picking up a newspaper – so long as you park in a space and don’t stay for more than ten minutes.  

And those motorists who want to stay for three hours can – they just pay the going rate, which quickly increases in the most popular streets.

The same system could work here with ‘pay and display’ or mobile phone payments on –street, and the same payment methods plus ‘pay-on-foot’ in off-street car parks. Charges can be varied to suit local conditions but essentially you just pay for what you use.  If local communities wanted free parking in certain locations at certain times, that could be accommodated. The trick seems to be to get people to park legally in locations they can afford without the threat of being ticketed: to make them feel like valued citizens and customers rather than potential criminals.

Local authorities in the UK could do worse than examine the wider benefits of keeping their communities close, whilst still being paid for parking in designated car parks and spaces.

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So councils are cash strapped? Not when it comes to parking income it would seem.

Between them the 359 authorities that run parking operations made an eye-watering £565 million between them in the financial year 2011-12, as our latest report shows.

Before all the councils start leaving comments, yes we realise this figure is before capital charges – that is building and replacing stuff associated with parking – are deducted, but even after you allow for these the total surplus is still a massive £412 million.

In a way the point is not that a surplus is made but why it is made.

Few drivers will have a complaint with a coherent transport policy which manages traffic and congestion through the use of parking fees. If there were no restrictions or charges then in many towns and cities there would be a free-for all on the roads which would be in no one’s interests, drivers included.

And if a ‘profit’, sorry surplus, is generated then this is allowed for in law as long as it is spent on a strict and limited number of things, all of which are essentially transport related.

What is not allowed for in law are parking charges that are set to generate revenue for hard-up councils facing cuts in central government grants and restrictions on the level of council tax they can set. We know it is against the law not just because it is there in black and white on the statue book but because a High Court a judge said so just last week.

According to Mrs Justice Lang, Barnet Council in London acted unlawfully when it hiked residents’ parking fees to “defray other road transport expenditure and reduce the need to raise income from other sources, such as… council tax.”

One nil to the residents of Barnet who brought the case, supported by the RAC Foundation.

It is true that there are several councils which do not make money from parking, but they are in the minority. In fact, that they made a loss might actually be a sign of a good parking policy where charges are kept low to actually encourage cars into a town or city centre to support the business of traders in the High Street.

But as for the rest there will be the suspicion amongst drivers that they are increasingly coming to rely on parking surpluses as a way of protecting other services.

This might be a laudable aim, but it is not a lawful aim. Why should councillors decide that the best way to break even is to arbitrarily tax one section of society?

The RAC Foundation would encourage all councils to publish an annual parking report containing their traffic management strategy and detailing what they are charging and why. If a set of charges has risen dramatically, why have they gone up? What is the traffic problem the council is trying to solve?

The irony is that these huge profits come against a backdrop of a decline in traffic volume because of the recession. Arguably parking charges should be generally coming down, not going up. And of course pigs might fly.

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