24 August 2012

Parking - a balanced approach needed

Councillors Dean Cohen and Richard Cornelius have got an easier job than the car balancer, John Evans.

All they have to do is to balance the needs of motorists to be able to stop in the High St against the available space and to provide fast and convenient payment methods. Just 2 years ago the only complaints that Mr Mustard can recall were occasional ones about traffic wardens being over-zealous which comes with the territory. There were hardly any complaints about parking meters, being out-of-order would be the only ones (compounded by the council's failure to fix them - engineers posts were vacant for a long time) but really before April 2011 there wasn't a problem with parking. Then in April 2011 along came massive parking charge increases and the destruction of parking meters (of which there are still 10 hiding on the streets somewhere) and the outcry started and hasn't yet abated and at the rate we are going will be a major local election issue in May 2014. 

Let us look at the charges in, say, North Finchley a High St that Mr Mustard used to visit when you could park outside the bookshop for free for 30 minutes and now only visits to go to Cafe Buzz, of all places, and then he parks on the edge of the zone (where the blogger bus gets spotted by twitter friends) and walks in.

Lodge Lane car park High Rd, N12

up to Apr-09 Apr-11 Sep-12 Aug-12
minutes £.p £.p £.p £.p
15 0.30 1.00 0.75 1.00
30 0.50 1.00 0.75 1.00
45 0.80 2.00 1.70 2.00
60 1.50 2.00 1.70 2.00
90 2.50 3.00 2.70 4.00
120 3.00 5.00 3.60 4.00
all day 3.00 5.00 5.00 max 2 hours

So imagine Mr Mustard had been passing through N Finchley in 2010 and wanted a cup of tea (and he loves a good cuppa; blogging is thirsty work) he could have pulled up, slipped 20p & 10p pieces into the meter and popped into Cafe Buzz and paid £1 to sit down with a cup of tea or £1.10 to take out (these are current day prices). Mr Mustard would not have chatted to Helen Michael because neither of them were infamous at that time (now things are very different).

Move forward to 2012 and now the minimum charge to park is £1 which is the same price as a cup of tea. It will soon be 75p which is two and a half times what is was three years ago. Inflation is bad in the minds of Barnet Council. 

The new parking prices are a bit odd. In Cafe Buzz 1 cup of tea is £1 and 2 are £2. In the Lodge Lane car park to park for 1 hour will be £1.70 and for 2 hours £3.60 which is twice as much plus an extra 20p. The message this sends, "please don't stay long". The same applies for 30mins and 60mins parking where an hour is more than double half an hour.

In addition, the usual idea is to have short stay on the High St and try to nudge longer stay motorists to car parks but a saving of 25p or 30p is not sufficient to change behaviour especially as you lose 5 or 10 minutes getting to and from the car park.

These anomalies are because the council are simply tinkering with the current broken system instead of going back to the start and deciding from a clean sheet what sort of parking strategy they should implement in order to save the High Streets which everyone wants to keep.

In the meantime the council should simply roll back the prices to 2009/10 rates and install parking meters that take coins and cards i.e. back to when things worked. Barnet Council are fond of prototyping. Why not prototype for 3 months putting the (coin) parking meters back in one town centre, and vocal N. Finchley is the obvious choice, and choose more sensible pricing. If at the same time some shop-keepers (those like cafes and newsagents that accumulate lots of change) put up "we give change" and "we sell parking vouchers" signs then we might really start to get somewhere. Leave pay-by-phone as a choice, not as the only choice, and it will naturally increase in popularity over time.

Remember Barnet Council that you make more money out of issuing parking tickets than you do out of parking charges so you can afford this experiment because it won't cost that much.

It is a pity that Cllr Brian Coleman had such a mad strategy in 2011 as it is his type of brook no opposition plan that we now need (of course, the plan has to be the correct one!). We need strong action, not pussy footing about. Brian, of course, had completely the wrong plan but if Richard and Dean, you could become decisive in favour of Town Centres for a little while, it would be appreciated.

Thank you gentlemen.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

1 comment:

  1. If parking in this borough had ever really been about the needs of residents, and not about facilitating the needs of private companies wanting to make profit out of residents, we would not be in this mess.

    There is an obvious conflict between a parking policy organised on the basis of the fair provision of parking, and in order to ensure traffic flow, etc, and the grasping desire of our councillors to squeeze easy money out of hapless drivers.

    That said, if the council was determined to install a new parking system outsourced to the private sector, a competent handling of the procurement process might have included the requirement for the successful bidder to install meters which are able to take alternative forms of payment, including cash. As we are more or less giving away free money to these companies, we might be thought to be capable of including one or two benefits to the users.

    The real question, of course, is why Barnet was so keen on implementing the new system, and my goodness, Mr Mustard, I think that must be an awfully interesting story, don't you?


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