5 October 2013

What if town centre parking were free?

What would happen if town centre parking were free? Well, naturally the income from paid for parking would go down to zero (space can be rationed by time as well as by money) and the number of PCN for not paying would reduce. The number of PCN for overstaying would stay the same.  The costs of providing traffic wardens and back office processing would reduce in proportion and the amount of money paid to Verrus for the PayByPhone system would also go to zero saving about £325,000 a year.

This is what Mr Mustard thinks the Special Parking Account would roughly look like if parking were rationed by time instead of by money.

Category Existing Free


£ £
Permit income 3,073,836 3,073,836
Paid for parking 2,945,682 -
Bus Lane penalties 831,492 831,492
Parking Penalty Charge Notices 5,003,385 4,020,577
Total income 11,854,395 7,925,905
Costs 4,661,253 3,864,825
Surplus ("profit") 7,193,142 4,061,080

How terrible, the council would only trouser the odd £4million. Not too shabby is it?

What might happen in town centres? Mr Mustard thinks that they would have the chance to regenerate.

Of course, even though they say parking charges aren't there to revenue raise, the fact that they are in the Annual Budget means that the £3m reduction in the parking surplus would have to be found from somewhere else. Half of it could be found from not reducing council tax by 1% in the next year.

The Council Leader Richard Cornelius is concerned about High Barnet town centre (not a marginal ward is it?) and came for a look around one afternoon recently. He was spotted and got told it was parking that was the problem. Richard really didn't even need to leave his home in Totteridge to work that out as the largely unrestricted Whetstone High Rd is trading quite well. So here's a thought Richard. Try out my idea in two town centres (yes, North Finchley and Chipping Barnet, where else) and see if all the traders get off your back, see trade slowly pick up and then you can then ask for votes on the grounds that you are saving the High Streets (the ones that removing cash parking meters from ruined; your administration but we won't mention that, well except to the 500 people a day who read this). If the idea works then extend it, if it doesn't work then at least you will have tried somehting rather than done nothing. It is the duty of the council to act positively towards High Streets not to cash cow them out of existence.

Thinking outside of the (money) box. That is what you are given huge allowances for isn't it Richard, lateral and/or radical thinking? Go on, give it a try, you might even get a taste for it.

Mr Mustard doesn't want to live in a world without High Streets.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. We need you running the council Mr M! Ironically if Richard Cornelius hadn't made the token cut in council tax this year it would have funded at least half the cost and the balance could have sold to residents by saying "pay an extra tenner a year and you can park anywhere in Barnet for free". Fantastic! I'm sure most residents would have seen it as a real benefit and, as you say it would have people using the shops keeping people in jobs and keeping town centres alive.

  2. Of course it is a good idea, boys, but you are missing the essential point: Cllr Cornelius and his Tory colleagues are reducing council tax for no reason other than political ideology, and an obsessive antipathy to the notion of taxation, blind even to the effect on their own political future, let alone the best interests of the people they purport to represent.

    Dut to their inability to think through the logical consequences of this action, they fail to acknowledge the harsh truth: the money they are knocking off council tax will either require them to cut services further, and hurt those who most depend on them (true, they are likely to be Labour voters, so don't really matter) or they will have to claw back the lost revenue through stealth taxes, like ... parking revenue.

    Full circle: viscious circle - Tory party, Nasty party: what do you expect?

    Roll on next May, when I hope they get the good kicking they deserve, and good riddance.

  3. Maybe I'm a very slow this morning, but I'm unclear on the detail of what you're proposing and how "unpaid" matches-up with "over-staying".
      Are you suggesting fixed-time-no returns across Barnet? (E.g. 2 hours?) If so I'm unclear how this would reduce the total need for wardens. (Or as I like to think of them, London's popular, friendly "welcome ambassadors". http://bit.ly/1a94sja )
      Interesting if councillors making key decisions are themselves unaffected in their own home and local high roads. Do unto others etc.
      Traders are not the only people impacted by free parking. Any local paid-for multi-storey carparks that perform a useful service and whose business may be damaged?
      Nearby residents also want somewhere to park and one of the aims of the CPZ in Wood Green in Haringey is to balance the interests of residents and e.g. local restaurants and their customers.
      As I may have mentioned before, I'm attracted by the Gold Card offered by Hillingdon Council. ( http://bit.ly/SuvVt ) One of my brothers lives there and so gets free parking in his street and reduced rates at local High Streets.
      There's a wider point which you may have raised - I don't remember. That's the de facto conversion of public highway into parking lots. E.g. A three lane street becomes one-lane with two lanes of parking.
      Jane Jacobs is still my hero on the broader issues of how we can make cities work for people - and not just "corridors" for cars. I bought a hardback copy of The Death & Life of Great American Cities because my old copies had either fallen to bits, or been borrowed. Her "method" was street-level observation, conversation and fresh thinking - suffused with the love and enjoyment of the "ballet" of street life.

  4. You can over-stay your time Alan on a free 2 hour bay. I was, for once, avoiding too many details. Of course I don't want town centres rammed with cars to the detriment of cyclists and pedestrians etc and so having various length of time free bays would lead to turnover of visitors and increased footfall.

    Fewer wardens would be required as fewer PCN would be issued. I am inclined to think the large number of PCN for not paying isn't because people take a chance but because they struggle with, or are caught out by, the PayByPhone system.

    I agree with you about balancing competing needs. I live about 50m from The Spires shopping centre. If there were not any restrictions I would never be able to park near Mustard Mansions. However, many CPZ roads are half empty in the day so allowing say 1 hour in those free would help to use a wasted resource without denying the residents a fair crack of the whip. Must be worth experimenting with. Willingdon Rd in your borough is one I visit most weeks. The restrictions used to be until 10pm, 7 days a week. Ridiculous and since moderated to 6.30pm, the very time I now arrive. If I arrive at 6.28 I drive round the block just in case.

    I would leave discount cards to the market personally, nothing to stop any borough signing up to it as a supplier.

  5. We were in Cumbria in July. They have an "honour" system where local shops have free time-limit cards where you show your arrival times. I don't know how well it works and I assume it's open to abuse. But in Penrith it meant we could stop in the town, eat at a café and buy stuff in a couple of shops. We chatted briefly to some local people and admired the town centre. http://bit.ly/19rzzEc
      I think your proposal for experiments is very valuable. But they'd need to be honest, warts 'n' all experiments. Not a fake designed to prove somebody's favoured outcome.
      I think we also need a complete rethink of Parking / High Street / cars in town centres. Learning and borrowing from the best ideas in other towns and cities - including abroad. I suspect that most people know that the present system isn't working properly; that it damages High Streets, and delivers customers to the Malls and big-box stores.
      I may be misremembering, but as I recall, didn't a certain mayor of Carmel decide to run for office because the town wouldn't let him park his car where he wanted? So - I may have got this wrong - Clint Eastwood got rid of parking meters.
      There's a danger that if enough people get angry enough about being overcharged and over-regulated, there might be a backlash against the whole system of parking controls, speed limits etc.

  6. It's an interesting idea and well worth a little pilot study to see if it would work.


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