Posts Tagged ‘parking fees’

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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There has long been a suspicion amongst motorists that local authorities are raking it in from parking charges and the truth is that many of them are. Even where huge ‘profits’ are absent the picture is almost uniformly one of surplus and not deficit, with only 57 (15%) of 371 local authorities in England reporting negative numbers.

The data is contained in annual returns councils make to the Department for Communities and Local Government, but given the mass of data government departments publish it is not always easily accessible. Openness does not equal transparency.

The RAC Foundation has tried to illuminate the figures and below are tables for those councils which have the biggest surpluses both in London and nationally. The complete list of all councils can be DOWNLOADED HERE. Together the councils in England make a surplus of a fraction over £500 million.

More details on councils’ parking operations can be found in the RAC Foundation recent report, Spaced Out by David Leibling and John Bates. See pages 66-68 in particular.

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