Just Because You Can do Something, Doesn’t Mean You Should


Just Because You Can do Something, Doesn’t Mean You Should

I live in a very green part of England. Although only 35 miles from Big Ben, I’m surrounded by woods and heathlands where nothing much has changed for hundreds of years. The reason is that most of the land belongs to the army. Aldershot, the home of the British army is just up the road and they use the land to play on. There are firing ranges and assault courses which are no go areas, but on the rest the public are free to come and go. Or at least they were. 

The entries are gated, but each gate had a pull off area where hikers and dog walkers could park their cars. No more; the army has erected earth bunds to stop casual parking and incidentally force military vehicles to stand on a fast, narrow bendy road while the gates are open. The cost of this, at a time when the military can barely buy bullets is obvious; the rationale and benefits less clear. The local community is alienated, a traffic risk is created (did no one do the mandatory risk assessment). The benefits?

I recently came across an item in the Times which claimed that parking costs the average UK driver about $3,000 a year and represents a third of the expense of owning a car. That figure is surprising, shocking even. Not least of all because just a few years ago the Royal Automobile Club published a very well researched study that showed that 95 percent yes 95percent, of UK parking acts were uncharged! So, I looked at this a little harder and of course, when one digs it all becomes a little clearer. 

Firstly, this is not a national figure at all, it’s 10 cities and, Newsflash, parking costs more in cities, especially in the UK where most cities have transportation policies that use high parking charges to discourage car use. Secondly, the figure includes a concept described as “parking pain” by the authors which, if I understand the description correctly is an estimate of the economic value of the time spent looking for parking, plus the cost of over-paying for parking. That’s not subjective at all!

Now I got curious, so I downloaded the full report, which disappointingly doesn’t appear to address the sample framework of the drivers participating in the study, and worryingly such data as there is strongly suggests that it might not be as representative of the population. 

For example, all the UK drivers apparently use a parking app or satnav, only they don’t. Nearly 30 percent of drivers avoid driving to the airport in London because it is difficult to find parking, and yet, all London airports have abundant easy to find on airport parking, and parasite off airport cut price operations. So, some interesting research, not helped by lazy reporting, but it does seem to me that there are a few too many leaps in the dark to conclusions that just might not stand up to close inspection.

Talking about numbers, I have just seen a recent government document from the Middle East that tells me quite authoritatively that to build a reasonable sized car park will entail a capital cost of about $50k per space. Showed this to a local UK specialist designer who has just brought in a well-designed steel framed permanent structure at about $15K. Methinks someone is being taken for a fool.

I see in the press that the BPA, the EPA and the IPI are setting up a transatlantic Data Harmonization project. Does this mean that you guys are going metric at last?

Meanwhile, we have yet another report of a local authority deciding that the rules for operating legal parking are just too tiresome and so they will simply ignore them. Street parking in the UK is regulated by law that dates back to legislation first passed in 1967 and re-enacted again in 1984. 

I make that 50 years and change, so councils have had plenty of time to come to grips with this. Notwithstanding this, and in particular the government guidance on how to use these powers, the burghers of the ancient City of Coventry decided that their city was “special” and the rules could be more or less ignored. 

There was a bit of a clue that things were not quite going to plan when it was realized that the city was issuing 30 citations a day, every day. It is a small city, after all. Worse, when drivers appealed their tickets the independent adjudicators voided them and told the city why. 

Despite this, the city did nothing, relying on the defense that the government had OK’d the scheme. After five years of the adjudicator saying “No” and relying on the defense that a civil servant, who is probably long gone, said it was OK, seems to me a clear case of “It is broke, for god’s sake, fix it”. But what do I know?

Meanwhile France, or in particular Paris, is having a little local difficulty with the march of electric vehicles. The city launched a pay to drive scheme with 4,000 electric vehicles that could be hired by the minute. But the public are being turned off by reports of vandalism, poor upkeep and grubby conditions and ridership dropped by 16 percent last year. The mayor and the scheme operator are now in a handbag fight about responsibility for this sad state of affairs.

And finally, my latest book has just been published. Well, I say my book, because I was a very minor contributor, but the lead authors were kind enough to give me a name check in the contributors’ list. It’s called Recommendations for the Inspection, Maintenance and Management of Car Park Structures and is published by the UK’s Institution of Civil Engineers. If you have a parking structure and want to know how to look after it, keep it in good condition and make it last this is highly recommended and worth every penny of the £55 price tag

Afterthought; I am a luddite, I treat all and every technological advance with deep suspicion and assume that claims as to efficiency, efficacy and reliability are 90 percent hype. Therefore, I had to smile today when the whole of the European VISA system crashed and burned yesterday. It shouldn’t happen, and VISA said it couldn’t happen, but it did. In the UK, one in three pounds spent is handled by VISA so the result was pretty catastrophic and it seems only one major retailer had the nous to get the old paper slide and emboss devices out of the cupboard and allow customers to pay.

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest
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