Magazine

Emission Based Parking Charges

By Peter Guest

There is a lot of talk about the use of cars and pollution and many stirring statements about how we must reduce our impact on the planet and use less polluting and more sustainable resources. Unfortunately in most cases this rhetoric is just that; long on words with no actions or actions that are so limp wristed that they are unlikely to be much more than a minor irritant to drivers with gas guzzlers. For example in the UK annual vehicle tax bands depend on the output level of pollution but for the worst polluters the charge is little more than a pound a day extra compared with a small family saloon.
Forgive me but I do not think that someone who a) has and b) is thinking about investing a six figure sum in a so called super car is going to really think again because horror-shock it will cost a £1 a day more to run than a Toyota Prius.
In 2007 the London Borough of Richmond took the first steps in applying the same logic to how it charged its residents to park in the street. A new scheme was introduced which set the charge for a resident’s parking permit according to the government’s banding for annual road tax. Thus a super “clean” car which produced less than 100 gm of CO2 per km could have a free permit whereas the most polluting vehicles paid £450 a year for the same privilege.
Now historically any attempt to raise residents’ (aka voter) parking charges to even a cost recovery level was political suicide but surprisingly this initiative has survived and three years on seems to be generally accepted by Richmond’s environmentally aware electorate. There is however no figures published which would suggest that the average car owned by the good citizens of Richmond has become less polluting as a result of this initiative.
Richmond has now gone one better and introduced a “Richmond Card” to pay for all parking both on and off street. The Richmond Card is a smart card which stores information about the owner’s vehicle registration and its government emission band and when the user buys parking the level of charge levied varies according to the vehicle’s details.
What the Borough has actually done is to raise all parking charges by 25% to set a new standard charge. The system then allows drivers of mid-range vehicles to get a 25% discount by using the card, effectively taking them back to the old status quo and for people with super clean cars, i.e. with emission levels below 120g/km there is a further discount of 50% off the old charge. So in principle everyone could pay a lot more but the “good guys” with less polluting cars can get a hefty discount.
Looking at the way the system operates I can see some issues which could get drivers into difficulties. The card is issued to a driver with the vehicle licence plate and emission level encoded, so far so good but the card does not appear to have this information printed in a human readable form.
Therefore the chances of picking up the wrong card in house with multiple vehicle owners must be an issue. Unfortunately the card will cause the vehicle registration plate to be printed on the ticket so if a driver uses the wrong card and pays the money is lost.
Next the card can have money added by either putting the card in a pay and display and then paying cash into the machine or returning the card to the council who will top it up and return it “within seven working days”.
Both these options for keeping the system working seem unnecessarily clumsy. At a pay and display machine a card can only topped up with coins and I cannot see too many people stand at the machine and feeding in up to £25 in coins to add credit to the card, just so it can be taken off again to pay for parking. Fortunately the card can be used simply as a vehicle identifier and payments made by cash or credit card; I think that this is likely to be the most common way of using the card
The seven day “top up and return” option just seems a non-starter. If you are parking in Richmond often enough to get the card and the maximum value that you can add is £25, this represents less than ten hours parking in Richmond town centre. It could be a case of “use it for one day, lose it for seven” hardly customer friendly. There are a number of other technical issues which could prove to be something or nothing time alone will tell.
The system has only just gone live and it is early days, certainly too soon to either judge whether some of the operational issues that I see will be more than a minor irritant. Unlike the annual vehicle tax and annual resident permit charge this charge will be more noticeable because it is a marginal charge that is incurred every time the vehicle is used and basic economic theory suggests that this should have greater effect than a one off annual fee.
However, I am left with the same question that I posed at the start; will a driver who has made a status/lifestyle choice to drive say a Porsche really be influenced to change that choice by a charging regime like this? Every little bit helps and this is a well intentioned initiative but I can’t help but feel that this is just too little to matter.
Peter Guest is PT’s roving reporter – he can be reached at Peter@parkingtoday.com

Article Abstract from July, 2010




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