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Why is Britain at war over car parking?

PARKING PROBLEMS: Pay and display machines are often inconvenient

WITH MORE than 30 million cars on its roads which are parked 95 per cent of the time on average, Britain faces huge challenges when it comes to the parking requirements of both its residents and tourists alike.

Surprisingly, it was reported in The Economist that in a shock decision in 2004, minimum provision for parking for new residential spaces was eradicated, making on street parking even more sought after and bringing with it conflict between business owners and residents.

Lack of progress

It could be argued that the issue of parking and the lack of improvement and development in this sector has only added to the unrest, despite the huge revenue generated through the 34 per cent increase in fees implemented since 2011. While a large number of makes and models of cars have increased in size, the average size of a parking space has not, yet the price for the space still continues to rise.

Retail park winners

With online shopping more popular than ever, small businesses located in town centres throughout Britain rely heavily on local trade through their residents and yearly tourists. Sadly, with the price of parking having risen so dramatically over the past few years, more and more people are opting to shop out of town in retail parks where parking is free, leaving business owners struggling to keep their heads above water. The inconvenience of pay and display parking machines and automatic car park machines has only added to this move as these systems take up time and are not efficient.

The question of re-investment

In addition, without adequate parking facilities in town centres many business owners are forced to find alternative parking opting for the only available parking a fair distance away in residential areas. As a result, residents have expressed their concern as to the knock on effect to them and with a revenue of over 756 million pounds generated through fines and parking fees throughout Britain last year via local councils, questions are starting to be asked as to where or if this money is being re-invested.

Workers to take the brunt

If the pressure on small business owners and residents wasn’t enough, at least 10 British authorities have expressed that they intend to put in place workplace parking levies that could amount to up to £1000 per employee per year to park. While much can be said for having a “green approach” to transport and parking, many, including The Sun Newspaper have reported that this is yet another “greedy” approach to keeping cash flowing through local councils.

Unison, the union for public services issued a report last year on the huge amounts some staff at hospitals are being forced to pay for parking at their place of work. In north London, one hospital was reported to be charging staff over £85 a month for one parking space. Luckily, for those working in Scotland and Wales, car park fees in hospitals were removed all together in 2008.

A necessary charge?

Charges such as these parking levies are considered by many as essential to help fund improvements in public transport and reduce air pollution. However, others such as the AA have commented that these additional levies are tantamount to “a poll tax on wheels”. Motorists are already subject to fuel tax, road tax and business tax and this addition has been seen as a real blow by many.

Positive and effective change

According to an article recently published on Forbes.com the AA expressed a need to give incentives for drivers to purchase lower emission vehicles or even electric cars, which would still combat the same “green issue”. Many commuters do not live on public transport routes in addition to the hundreds of less mobile drivers who may find public transport challenging such as the elderly, pregnant women and those combining the run to school with their trip to work.

The AA believes for drivers to truly embrace the philosophy of cutting congestion, provision should be made for assistance to compensate and encourage them such as vouchers that are discounted for public transport.

Going green

Certain areas of the UK offer excellent examples of where parking fees have been reinvested wisely to reduce congestion and where public transport provision has been made affordable and accessible. One such area is in Nottingham where park and ride tram facilities have seen many motorists ditch the drive into the city in exchange for taking advantage of the of clean, consistent, timely and efficient trams. This simplifies the process when using pay and display parking machines where your ticket for your car also acts as your ticket for the tram.

Seeing funding re-invested into schemes like this, rather than imposing higher parking fees or workplace parking levies, is a much more consumer-friendly approach and likely to encourage motorists, especially if there are clear savings to be made on both transport and parking costs.

The future

With the focus on a “greener environment” there is no escape from increased costs in relation to parking and transport in general. With the right re-investment, UK authorities can encourage motorists to look for alternative methods of transport which will not only be better for the environment but better for their pockets, making everyone a winner.

In order for this to be successful, alternative public transport will need to be accessible and cost effective to encourage not only the workers to use public transport but local residents and tourists too. By doing so, this will cause a positive upturn in those visiting city and town centres where more now than ever small businesses need their support and revenue.

In addition, addressing parking allocation for new builds and re-assessing the minimum parking requirement would also be a positive for residents living in built up areas. Many of which are more than happy to pay a residents parking permit to secure this.

Finally, transparency in relation to where car parking fees and fines are being spent is also a way to build public confidence and to justify the huge amount of finance generated by local transport departments.

All of these approaches would both individually and collectively contribute to a less volatile reaction to car parking and coupled with effective communication,better car parking machines and facilities and education can only act as a positive step to reducing the stress and emotion associated with parking in the UK.

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