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Notes from Big Ben …

Cut off Your Nose to Spite Your Face?

By Peter Guest

In the UK, we pay an annual fee to use our cars on the road. If you don’t use your car, you can declare it “off the road” and pay no fee. I did this for two years when working in Abu Dhabi.

Ian Taylor also had done this, but came out one morning to find the government had clamped his car for non-payment because it was sticking outside his property a few inches. His response was dramatic but perhaps not fully thought through.

He cut his car in half and invited the government to take away the bit they had clamped! The government took their clamp back and walked away, leaving Taylor with a worthless pile of junk. I am sure Taylor feels he has struck a blow for the little man, and not behaved like a total... well, you can fill the word in.

Pay to park

Most of you know that London has congestion charging. This means that drivers pay a daily fee to drive in the center of London. The same law also allows cities to charge an annual levy on private business parking spaces, and the city of Nottingham has decided to go ahead with this plan starting in 2010.

Every business with more than 10 parking spaces will pay about $750 per space per year, unless they take the spaces out of use. I am not quite sure how they will make this work. What happens, for example, if someone else parks without the owner’s approval or permission?

Big companies are facing bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many of the city’s businesses have announced they will pass this charge on to their staff.

The city’s idea is to reduce congestion by encouraging drivers to shift to public transport and to fund a new tram system. The first is commendable; the second is unlawful. UK law says that cities can charge for things such as parking to manage traffic and use the surplus to fund other things. It does not allow the city to use a traffic-management charge as a form of tax.

This “radical” new plan was researched in London in the 1970s and quietly put back on the shelf. I do not believe anyone faced with an increase in motoring costs of about $2 to $3 a day is going to rush to the bus stop. Some will pay; many will park in the local streets, making congestion worse, not better.

More to the point, the council will have an election between now and 2010. Guess what’s going to be No. 1 on the agenda.

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

I have been on holiday! I spend a lot of time traveling, but I think it had been more than a year since “she who must be obeyed” and I actually went “on vacation.” We visited Yorkshire, which is one of the most beautiful parts of England, and whilst there, we visited the seaside town of Scarborough (as in “Are You Going to Scarborough Fair?” – Simon and Garfunkel, you remember).

I have often read about the problems some have in getting a sensible balance between on- and off-street parking charges, but I think Scarborough Harbor takes the prize.

Park on-street right by the harbor and you can stay two hours, and it’s free. Use its front car park 30 yards farther away and two hours costs $5. I am sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for this, or perhaps not.

Hospital parking

The hospital parking issue has reached Northern Ireland, where Health Minister Michael McGimpsey announced that hospitals should stop charging the seriously ill and those who have to make frequent visits to hospitals for parking.

This is quite sensible on the face of it. McGimpsey has recognized that charges have a place to keep the car parks turning over, but that for people who are seriously ill or need to make frequent trips, parking can get to be a big cost. Indeed, many public hospitals already operate this sort of plan.

Unfortunately, McGimpsey made this statement at the same time as announcing that the hospital he was visiting would get about $1 million to build another 160 “free” spaces and 250 free spaces would be added before the end of the year, which I guess will cost another $1.5 million.

So that’s $2.5 million that could be used for medical treatment, plus the ongoing maintenance costs and no income. This is a pretty big subsidy to car users, much of which will come from the pockets of those without cars.

I wonder if McGimpsey is going to make another announcement tomorrow setting out a plan for free taxi rides for those who are paying for the car parking through their taxes but can’t afford a car? I won’t hold my breath.

Politician opens mouth and foot enters

Unlike the USA, we have three national political parties here. The Liberal Democrats Party is the smallest and until recently was gradually growing its support to the point where it could have a real role in Parliament. In recent months, however, its support has fallen away, and a statement made in late May by its transport spokesman kind of gives a clue why.

Norman Baker told us that it was a matter of concern that there were three times as many parking tickets issued now under council enforcement as when the police did it.

Well, duh! – the whole reason for taking the task off the police was that they weren’t doing it properly. And double duh! – since 1991, the amount of street parking has just about doubled. And triple duh! – when the police knew that the councils were taking over, they stopped doing the job, so in the last year of police enforcement, ticket numbers dropped probably by half.

Our Norman also told us that we needed a parking regulator to make sure the job was being done properly and fairly. I couldn’t help but agree with him, since I had suggested this in evidence to Parliament. But really, he should know better than to quote numbers without knowing what they mean.



Peter Guest is Parking Today’s correspondent in Europe and the Middle East. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from July, 2008




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