#
 

Brexit, Free Parking, Airports, and Just for the Love of It

February 20, 2020

Peter Guest

So, we had an election, and we now have a one-party government with a clear parliamentary majority for the first time in about ten years. For the winner, the election was pretty much fought on a one-line manifesto by Boris “BOJO” Johnson, viz: “Get Brexit Done”. It is a quirk of our imperfect “first pass the post” constituency-based electoral system that, although his party secured about 45 percent of the votes cast, he has 56 percent of the seats. So, axiomatically more people voted not to get BREXIT done than supported him. Still, it is what it is, and by the time that you read this I won’t be a European anymore. Whether we have made a brave leap into a bright future or just walked off a very high cliff, time alone will tell.


Anywho, one of the other things in the new government’s program is to introduce free hospital parking for public hospitals in England. Scotland, Wales and Ulster have already done this, with the consequential loss of millions of pounds of money that was being used to fund medical treatment and the ongoing headache of trying manage sites, particularly city-center locations, which are now free and easily accessible to non-hospital local workers. 


At least, in the rest of Britain it's all free all of the time. BOJO’s master plan is that English hospital parking should be free for some of the people, some of the time, for example, people having dialysis, staff parking at night. Great, from April 1st All Fool’s Day) not only will English hospitals lose millions used to pay for medical care, they also must set up complex and expensive bureaucracies to assess whether or not each parker qualifies for free parking! 


Meanwhile, back in airport land, Manchester airport has just announced that it has created a list of approved off airport parking companies. This is intended to try and combat the never-ending stream of people who are being conned by cut price operators who offer quality, secure parking but actually park the cars in a field or back street somewhere. That is, if they are not being used as taxis or to run drugs around the country. 


At one level, I feel that this is a good move, but at the same time I kind of feel that many of these victims get what they deserve. You have a $100,000 car and you hand it over to someone that you only have a cell-phone number for, because they offer a week’s parking for half the price of the official airport parking? 


We are all going to drive electric soon, or maybe not. In a recent study by one of our biggest power companies, they have estimated that to upgrade the national electricity grid to a point where it can provide the required level of charging capacity would require an infrastructure investment of £100 billion pounds. That’s about £3,300 per car, which is already going to cost about £10,000 more than the ICE vehicle that it replaces. Hmm. 


One solution being offered, for places where the local grid is deficient, are charge points that use a hydrogen fuel cell system that can be powered by “a variety of hydrogen sources”. It seems that the source of the hydrogen is actually a magic box which, it seems, contains a diesel engine, which is presumably kept operating using fuel delivered by a truck. Hmm again.


Meanwhile, the numbers are out and, once again English councils have made big bucks from their parking operations. Income is up 5 percent at £1,746m, expenditure 3 percent greater at £816m, meaning that the surplus is 7 percent higher at £930m. The press will run the usual vitriol about rip off parking and councils making money blah blah blah. Just like in hospitals, see above, the money collected goes into the community in things like lower taxes or bus services for people with disabilities. So, pooh, pooh on blah blah. 


What does disappoint me is that the lowest rise is in expenditure. Last month, I wrote about having to make nine attempts to pay for parking in Southampton before I could get the job done. Maybe if the cities focused more on ensuring that their systems were fit for purpose, and less on banking every penny, their bottom line would be better in the long term, and more importantly, old curmudgeons like me would have less to moan about.


I think that John has finally lost it! Superficially, he seems quite normal but WHAM, out of nowhere “write me 400 words on why you love parking!” What? Are you serious? Well, dear reader, I don’t love parking, although for nearly fifty years “parking” has paid for my daily bread and bought me a small lump of Britain called home. Yet, although I am well past the age at which I should have retired, I don’t quite seem to be able to put “parking” down and get on with my life.


So, what’s the fascination? Well parking’s a conundrum, a paradox and completely illogical and irrational. People, who are rational and honest become devious, dishonest liars when parking is involved. Someone who would chase you down the road to return a dropped penny will lie cheat, steal and sell their children to avoid paying to park. Why? For everything else they expect to and will pay. But parking, should be free, it must be free, charging infringes human rights. I didn’t understand this in ‘72 when I started and it’s no clearer now.


Garages used to be heavy concrete structures, designed by engineers who often didn’t understand how the building would work, either functionally or structurally. I was lucky to work in a practice that revolutionized the design process, leading to beautiful light steel structures, and to be involved in the British Parking Awards, which have done more to push design quality than anything else. Satisfaction, yes; love, no.


So, do I love anything about my chosen career? Yes, the people. “Parking” has allowed me to travel all over the world and meet, literally, thousands of people who made me welcome and shared their experiences with me. 


So maybe John, not such a stupid idea after all.



#