Summer Doldrums, ‘Brexit,’ Parking Taxes, a Royal Award
So it’s England, and summer. We know this because the rain is warmer and the grass is growing. As I write this, “Brexit” still fills the papers, mostly because, having voted for it, people are vying to define just what it is that we have decided to do; and to determine if we can actually do it without a new election and a possible re-run of the Wars of the Roses and the Battle of Bannockburn.
Summer means the silly season here in the UK – not much happening, really. That said, I notice that there is renewed interest in the so-called workplace parking levy.
A zillion years ago, when I was working in London, and we were going through the second (or was it third?) study of what has now become the “London congestion charge” (we don’t rush stuff over here), we looked at other policies to reduce commuting by car.
Only 15% of travellers into the city’s central business district (CBD) came by car, but they caused enormous congestion with all the attendant economic, social and environmental “dis-benefits.”
Most of these people had a free parking space at work, and often their car was a tax-free perk.
Workplace parking was over half of the parking spaces in the CBD, so if we could discourage people from using these spaces, the world might just become a better place.
The plan was to tax them. We looked to levy a local tax where the income would be recycled into improving public transport and so have a double whammy effect. The problem was that the CBD is the center of a very large, and very congested, city, and if we decongested the city center by reducing the number of vehicles stopping there, then traffic crossing it would increase to take up the road space, and we would just about be back where we started.
Nice idea, doesn’t work, move on. That was, until 2004, when someone in government who saw the word “tax” decided to legislate.
Now, the “Traffic Management Act 2004” allows cities to implement this program to reduce congestion (it won’t), with any income recycled to improve public transport. First to jump was the city of Nottingham, which saw the plan as a way to raise money to fund a new tram system.
Now, I have looked and looked and looked, and nowhere in the literature can I find a single word that suggests that the congestion in Nottingham has dropped. If anyone in Nottingham would like to correct this, I would be delighted to be proved wrong. So, it’s been done not to achieve the purpose of the act – to reduce traffic congestion – but as a simple, straightforward local tax.
Two problems: It’s not fiscal law and councils cannot use regulatory law to raise a tax. More fundamentally, the program cannot work in a technical sense. If the traffic reduction objective is met, parking spaces stop being used and money isn’t raised. If money is to be raised, this can be achieved only if the plan fails as a traffic management tool and drivers carry on using their parking places.
Now, both Oxford and Cambridge are considering jumping onto the bandwagon and introducing similar plans. If I were a betting man, I would place a pound or two on both cities promoting a plan. However, both cities’ universities have strong law and transport policy schools, and I just wonder how keen the universities, as major employers, will be to welcome a plan of questionable legality that will cost them megabucks.
I have been reading a lot recently about your public transportation systems in the U.S., and the role of park-and-ride, and whether it is a good or a bad thing. Here on our little medieval island, park-and-ride has been a long-time winner.
Most railway stations here have had car parking for a very long time, which we don’t really think of as park-and-ride. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, rail freight and rail parcel services disappeared, and redundant sidings were tarmacked over to create parking lots. In suburban areas, these were upgraded to improve access to commuter stations. Mostly, these are charged for, and $10-$15 a day is not unusual on the fringe of big cities.
However, over the last 20 to 30 years or so, more and more of our historic cities have also developed bus-based park-and-ride, which move people from the edge of the city to the center, mostly on dedicated high-frequency, high-quality bus services. They often run on a specially designed bus corridor where buses can bypass congestion spots and get you to the city center more quickly than by driving.
Fares and parking are usually a single charge, and often subsidized This is justified, because although the plans don’t cover their direct costs, when one includes the wider economic benefits to traffic congestion and the local economy, they are a winner.
One of the best-known programs is in the ancient city of York, where the original one that was targeted at tourists has proved so popular that year-on-year, the city adds more and more routes and has had to deal with the challenge of local workers using the plan so much so that tourists were being crowded out!
This can go terribly wrong, however. Cambridge’s program decided to introduce a £1 parking charge into its free parking, pay on the bus plan to reduce subsidy. Having to pay for parking when the charge was implicitly included in the bus fare caused a lot of confusion. The net result was a 14% reduction in ridership, and the council and the bus operator have locked horns over how to sort out the mess.
‘I Got a Gong!’
Over the last few years, I have been working one day a week as a volunteer in a museum. Brooklands, near Weybridge, Surrey, was the first purpose-built motor-racing track in the world, and soon also became the home of Vickers aviation, one-time the UK’s biggest aircraft manufacturer.
The place closed down in the 1980s, but one corner of the site has been kept as a museum, occupying some of the original buildings.
Anyhow, H.M. Queen Elizabeth has just given me – and 800 other volunteers – an award for the work we do (The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service). It’s nice to be appreciated.
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian. Contact him at email@example.com.