There is an urgent need for us to reduce carbon emissions. As transport is now the largest source of UK emissions of greenhouse gases, it presents one of the keys to a more sustainable world. If we are to deliver a more sustainable future, current travel patterns need to change dramatically. Put simply, we need to drive less.
Parking affects everyone who drives, and is an already established part of transport policy and planning. Therefore, parking is a policy tool that can be used immediately, with widespread effect.
The Transport Planning Society (TPS) has put together a Parking Policy Statement containing a number of key recommendations for government to use parking policy to drive a shift in behaviour from personal car to other modes of travel.
Just the Ticket! follows on from the TPS’s key strategic statement State of the Nations: Transport planning for a sustainable future, published in 2020, whose fundamental premise was that there is an urgent need for us to reduce carbon emissions.
Just the Ticket! identifies that parking happens all over the country, and affects most people who drive. Rules and laws about parking, and charging, are already established and accepted, so it presents a ready-made policy tool by which people’s trip-making choices can be influenced.
The full document can be read here
Find an infographic of the policy by clicking here
Several of the recommendations in the first section of Just the Ticket! on planning are not new. Greater use of maximum car parking standards, that limit the amount of car parking provided at new developments, including a reprise of national guidelines, is presented as an essential part of creating “human-scale” places for us to live and work in.
Remove parking, and things can be closer together, meaning it is easier to walk and cycle, and of course, somewhat more difficult to drive or own a car. Also in there is a reminder that when off-street parking is reduced at new developments, planning authorities have to get a grip on the controls for on-street parking, to preserve some level of service for those that need that space.
But what is new is the statement’s recognition that some draconian shift in the amount of parking we provide new build homes doesn’t align with over 40 years of out-of-town and suburban developments and lifestyles effectively reliant on a car to access goods and services. Instead, it proposes that new developments are built with much lower in-curtilage or private parking, ready for a future landscape where travel habits have changed, but in the meantime offer ‘Parking Supply Bridging’: parking areas that remain owned by the local authority and while available now for parking, can be re-purposed for other uses over a reasonable timescale.
Another item of note, amongst reinforcement that developments should be mandated to provide minimum levels of parking for cycles and car clubs and all those other good things, is the idea that the use of planning obligations should be extended to include such things as a requirement to provide free cycle use for guests staying at the city’s hotels and guest houses or for them to make an annual commuted payment to help sustain the local cycle hire scheme, to which hotel guests would then have free access.
There is another nod to understanding that this cannot work as a war on drivers, but is a journey that we all have a vested interest in completing. When discussing limits on the amount of car parking permitted at new developments, the document urges planning authorities to ensure that smaller format urban grocery stores are granted enough parking so that they are viable.
As the document states, these urban stores provide a service to many local people who do walk and cycle, but it may be a requirement that for them to exist, they do still need to serve an element of customers who will arrive by car. If we don’t allow these sites to succeed, we effectively force all those local residents to drive to the out-of-town stores.
Part two of Just the Ticket! explores issues of social equity. It is less the recommendations in the second section are challenging, but the fundamental re-think of how we have accepted and allowed cars to be parked wherever the owner has felt able, with no accounting of the lost amenity caused by that action.
For years we have all assumed that if a piece of road is not needed for traffic, and doesn’t block someone’s driveway, we should park a car on it. The first challenge in this section is that we should stop using this spare highway as parking by default, and think of all the other useful and worthwhile things we could do with it. The society are recommending that while highway authorities may still decide parking on spare highway is a good use, they should not do this until they have considered how else that space may contribute to the local community or retail vitality of the area.
The document continues to develop the question of “Whose car is it, anyway?” It makes the point that any other thing we personally own we have to find and provide storage for at our own cost. Yet when it comes to our cars, it is a common theme for residents to demand of their local council to provide them adequate space for parking, and to protect that space for their exclusive use through some permit scheme.
The recommendation is that everywhere this happens people should pay the full value of what they are getting – 14 square metres of hard-standing, with drainage, lighting, sweeping and general maintenance, often in an urban setting. This is rarely charged for at a rate that is close to what it would achieve if used in any other way. Charge-payers who don’t have cars to park, are subsidising car owners, because their local government is failing to demand a proper return on this public asset.
A further recommendation is made to get tougher on those who park their cars or vans on those pockets of greenspace or chew up the verges in residential areas. This the document reminds us, is public space, not somewhere for people to occupy with their personal property. The document plays out some common defences and justifications for this behaviour, before reminding us again where it thinks responsibility for owning and parking cars must ultimately lie.
Providing nationwide legislation to enable highway authorities to be effective against parking on pavements is also recommended.
The third and final section of Just the Ticket! on environmental taxes and charges essentially sets out a number of policies by which those that continue to enjoy driving may, through parking charges, help provide the finances to support other more sustainable modes of travel.
The first thread discusses the success of the Nottingham Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) to raise money from those driving into the city to support the delivery of its tram system. It recommends that a number of large UK cities should be mandated, by central government, to introduce similar levies and deliver transformative public transport systems, within the near term. It also recommends that the scope of such levies could be extended, and the requirements for introducing them, streamlined.
In a similar vein, it recommends that there should be a reverse turn relating to current tax laws in respect of benefit-in-kind. Parking that is provided at the workplace, or paid for by the employer, should become a taxable benefit, whereas financial help given to employees to come by bus or bike, should stop being so.
This is another example of the document looking to recommend policies that present a simple nudge in changing the balance between what it costs to drive to work rather than taking a bus or bike. A small change that could impact the choices made as to how people get to work, across the country, every day of the week. There is also a call to review what rateable values are applied to parking, and a suggestion that current assessments may be patchy and out-dated.
The revelation that there is legislation from the 1960s that allows local authorities to require public car parks to be licensed, and that they can stipulate within that licence the tariffs to be charged by the operator, opens up a range of ideas and opportunities. In particular this document sees this as a solution to large car parks offering ever lower all day parking rates in an attempt to fill excess capacity. Car parks throughout a city centre could be regulated such that commuter parking is set at a minimum charge that ensures it is not a cheap option. It should certainly not be less costly than taking a bus, nor such a trivial charge that it encourages people to drive when they might otherwise walk or cycle.
The final theme in this section looks at how parking charges may capture some of the impact that using a vehicle has on the environment and wider society. A small number of local authorities have begun applying differential charges for parking based on the vehicle’s engine type or emissions rating. Charging a less environmentally-friendly vehicle more to park is a proxy for charging it more for its journey to that parking place. The recommendation supports greater application of this approach and picks up on an emerging consideration of charging more for larger and heavier vehicles, on account that they take up more space and present a greater risk to other more vulnerable road users.
The document’s final recommendation introduces the concept of ‘Utility Pricing’. Rather than charging people for their parking based on the length of stay, which is how we’ve done it for years, it suggests that there are circumstances when it would be far better to charge the parking based on when the vehicle arrived, and when it leaves, the car park. This is, ultimately, an indication of when the vehicle is used and when it has an impact on congestion, pollution, others’ use of the roadspace and other users’ safety. The technology exists to do this, and the document describes how this might work well as a framework upon which a new set of parking charges could be established. These could make driving to the car park cheaper at off-peak times but more expensive when to do so means the driver has invariably added to the congestion and pollution that arises from those journeys.
The concept is novel. It has merit: A parked car is not causing any significant environmental harm, so why charge it for the time it sits idle?
In summary, this is not just another academic treatise on how we must all stop driving and go vegan, written by people divorced from the real world and devoid of the responsibilities and demands placed upon most working people.
Make no mistake, it sees parking as something that is in many cases under-charged and over-provided. Reducing our car use though policies that make parking a little more costly or a little less convenient is a central theme of switching the balance between the attractiveness of driving and using some other mode of transport that is less damaging to our climate. But the ideas in Just the Ticket! are not without balance, and central to this document is an appreciation that there are some judicious policy recommendations to progressively transition us away from a de facto decision to drive, and instead go easier, go cheaper and go cleaner, by other modes. And it’s a good read!
We do have a climate emergency and we do need to do something. The Transport Planning Society have presented us with some thought-provoking ideas.
Andrew Potter is author of the report and director at Parking Perspectives and Tom van Vuren is director of policy at the Transport Planning Society.
The Transport Planning Society has made 18 key parking policy recommendations
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