Locally, the issue of car parking charges has cropped up from time-to-time, with some politicians arguing for a reduction, e.g. £1.00 for 3 hours parking at weekdays. The argument for a reduced car parking charge is that it will encourage visits to the town centre, and with it being a fixed cost for a longer period of time, these visits will also be extended as people won’t be rushing back to their cars to avoid the next tariff. However, I maintain this is a bad idea and often say so on Twitter. To save me making the same arguments over and over again, it’s now high time that I put them here!
The primary argument over attracting visitors is fundamentally flawed. Visitors are attracted by the nature of the town – what does it have to offer? Does it have a range of different entertainment offerings, attractions, facilities and interesting shops? Visitors may also consider how easy it is to access the town – is congestion a problem? For those who need to drive, is there sufficient car parking facilities? For those who don’t drive, how accessibile is it by public transport, cycle or foot?
Reducing the costs of parking (or worse, making it free) does nothing to actually improve a town centre. In fact, it can make it worse. If the parking is cheap then perhaps people may decide to visit even if the attractions aren’t that enticing, but it won’t be for long. And the impact of such visits is to increases surrounding congestion, fill parking spaces, pollute the air, create a dangerous environment and make the town an increasingly unattractive place.
With worsening air quality, busy and dangerous roads and slower public transport caused by congestion, more people may be tempted to drive, creating a destructive spiral of an ever worsening situation.
And beyond all this, reducing car parking fees is a discriminatory action against those who are legally or physically unable to drive (e.g., the young, a proportion of the elderly, those with certain medical conditions), those who cannot afford to run a car, and those who choose not to. When it comes to political policies targeting the costs of driving, the non-motorists are very quickly overlooked.
So, reducing parking fees is a bad idea. At a time of climate emergency, when local authorities need to be focusing on actions to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, policies like this must be resisted as irresponsible, immoral and damaging. Instead, councils, politicians – indeed, everybody – must look at what can be done to reduce the dependency on the car, to encourage local people to visit their town by foot, by cycle or by public transport as the primary options, with the car reserved for only when it is absolutely necessary.
Finally, don’t forget too that car parks, where they must exist, need funding one way or another. If the ticket price is reduced or scrapped, that cost must be picked up by the operating authority – a cost that ultimately would be paid for through council tax and government grants. Money that would be diverted from frontline services.