What Free Parking Tells Us About UKIP

In UKIP’s “policies for people”, I find two mentions of Free Parking. The first under “The National Health Service”,

“…UKIP will commit to spending £200m of the £2bn saving to end hospital car parking charges in England” 

The “saving” they’re talking about comes from not treating migrants, so the free parking at the hospital is paid for by dead foreigners. It’s a fantasy this money exists, that charging migrants would raise anything like £2bn, and in order to do so, you’d have to set up a payment collection bureaucracy, which cannot be had for £2bn. Do you really think the NHS, whose hospitals are often near town centres should be in the business of providing free parking? Now, there’s a case for providing free parking to some patients, but clearly not visitors, who’ll also “pop to the shops” after seeing granny. And this is why free parking doesn’t work. It’s abused.

The second is under “Employment and small business” where

UKIP will Encourage councils to provide more free parking for the high street” 

There is no doubt this is popular. It’s a common complaint that parking charges discourage people from visiting the high street in favour of out-of-town stores because of the availability of parking. Parking fines make people angry. Some people feel  It’s all part of a “war on the motorist”. Free parking is a simple policy, easily sold. And massively, demonstrably counter productive. If you allow free parking, it will accelerate the decline of the High Street as a shopping venue.

UKIP is entitled to its own opinion, but not it’s own facts. And this policy, like so may others is based on beliefs that are to put it simply, false. Most business owners on any given street over-estimate the percentage of people arriving by car, often significantly. Retailers think car drivers are richer, and therefore more valuable as customers. They aren’t.  Business owners think people drive, park in front of their shop, get back in their car and leave. They don’t. People tend to park, mooch about, visit a number of shops, have a coffee, before heading home. Retail is a leisure activity on the high street. Retail in an out of town store is much more focussed. because who wants to go to the wind-swept car-park outside PC world and DFS unless you want a laptop or a sofa? Out of town retail is not a substitute for high-street shopping.

The key to making parking a part of a successful high street is turnover. A high street might contain parking for twenty or thirty cars. If those cars are there all day, the thousands who will be needed to keep those shops open will, if they are coming by car, find somewhere else to leave it, and in circulating to find a spot, will cause congestion. Parking charges are about valuing that scarce space, so that people come, for thirty minutes, or an hour or two, do their shopping and leave, freeing space for someone else to do the same. (This is also the logic behind encouraging cycling – twelve bicycles can be parked in the space occupied by one car) The first 30 minutes of most parking is nominal. The second hour might cost a lot more than the first. That is certainly the case with the town centre car-park where I live. And there is a vibrant high street here.

The key is to see what people do. If it is routinely “impossible to find a space” then the parking charges are too low or more parking needs to be provided (but who pays for this…?). If you can find a space easily, then they are too high and can be reduced. The other consideration for retailers is the leisure component of high-street shopping. The reason pedestrianisation works is because it encourages people to come to an area to spend time and money. Cars make an area hostile to people and leisure. Remove the cars, foot traffic increases, and business benefit. Of course people need to park, but most towns have multi-story car parks, which are out of sight. On-street parking impedes the flow of people. Remove the on-street parking (usually insignificant in towns with multi-story options) and it makes the area more attractive.

Why do people think free, on-street parking is so much more important than it actually is? The answer is the availability heuristic. Cars dominate our urban space. Most town centre streets are lined with them. Other people’s car journeys are more noticeable to us through noise, and time spent crossing roads (externalities) than are journeys by foot or bicycle. Everyone can recall the feelings of frustration in circulating to find a space. We do not recall the visits to the multi-story car park, where space is near limitless (how often have you parked on a roof?). Thus the importance of on-street shop-front parking is over-estimated, next to the paid, limitless off-street option. Count the cars parked down one high street. Twenty? Thirty? Then go to the multi-story behind the shops and look at the spare capacity. On-street parking isn’t necessary or even desirable for a vibrant high street, especially when it’s free.

The answer to high-streets is to provide the right amount of parking, in the right place, at the right price. This does not always mean less, or more expensive parking, but it does require thought about what has been tried, and what has worked elsewhere. Suggesting parking charges are part of a conspiracy to deny the people the use of their car is either dishonest, or stupid. And this is exactly what UKIP are doing. Their simplistic policies are clearly by people who have no interest in public policy beyond their own unexamined prejudices. ‘Free parking’ is a soundbite, designed to buy a vote from someone who’s never thought about the issue in detail, spoken by someone who isn’t interested in public policy and lacks the wit to find out. It might just be ‘Free parking’, but it demonstrates exactly why UKIP shouldn’t ever be allowed to get control of anything.

15 replies
  1. Woodsy42
    Woodsy42 says:

    There should be no difficulty whatsoever in providing a free car park exit token to bona fide hospital users and visitors. Result free hospital parking and possible income from 'freeloaders' using the car park.
    I refuse to go into town and pay their extortinate parking charges despite my desire to visit a particular couple of shops to get items difficult to get elsewhere – result: I don't visit the other shops in town either. The combination of visitor hostile charges, preying wardens, road closures and traffic arrangements mean the town centre message is that that they don't want me – so they can all fuck off, I'll do without them!

  2. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    That "truthiness" is exactly what I am talking about. Anecdote is not data. If you can only consider coming by car, and aren't willing to use a multi-story, then please fuck do, honestly, fuck off. Because you're a stupid, ignorant selfish, car-obsessed prat. Milton Keynes will be perfect for you. I don't go there.

  3. Luke
    Luke says:

    Sadly the UKIP have withdrawn their last glorious manifesto from their website. It was obviously done by some external IT contractors having a bet about what they could get away with:

    "I'll see your "Uniforms for cab drivers" and raise you with , "Make the Circle Line a circle again". It'll be years before those old buffers read what's on their website, let alone learn how to change it."

    There's a journalists' game of trying to get obscure words past the subs without the subs realising the game is on. One of my sister's proudest journalistic moments was getting "armadillo" into the Exmouth Express & Echo. But the web designer who got "make the Circle Line a circle again" must have been drinking for free for a year.

  4. Woodsy42
    Woodsy42 says:

    Oh dear we are in a tizzy aren't we. Sadly I have had rather a lot of trips to my nearest hospital over recent years. It's 3 bus journeys each way, not much fun when you are ill and in discomfort yourself or when watching a loved one expire slowly.
    So yes it's a car job! I suggest you thick clearly who is the ignorant selfish prat. I wasn't rude to you personally so why the personal invective?
    As for the town, yes I'll use the multi storey if I'm forced to go there. The point however is that unless forced to go there my choice is to not do so. From the empty shops and depressed feel of the place many other people do the same.
    Maybe us rural people should also do the same. Refuse sensible access and free parking to all the town dwellers who travel here to go walking or visit the local pubs – they always come by car, odd that.

  5. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    rural dwellers are massively outnumbered by urbanites. We get to live in green space, but have to drive into town. Did you read the bit where I say some patients should get free hospital parking? Parking space is a resource like any other. It's never 'free', someone else is paying. Your town is run down, you say? does it by any chance have an inner rong road?

  6. Clarissa
    Clarissa says:

    The local council where I grew up introduced parking in the town centre car park once about 25 or so years ago. The general idea was to stop the commuters who used it for free rather than the station car park.

    The sensible solution would have been to have made the first half hour free and then ramped the charges up after that time expired but they started charging from the first minute.

    The charges were withdrawn after about a month following protests from traders and widespread disobedience from the users (flat out non-payment and recycling tickets with time left on them were the two big acts) resulted in lower than expected takings.

    Last time I checked that car park was still free.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I don't think that your heart is in this blog anymore. I get the impression that you'd rather be mauling Labour rather than the Kippers but for the fact that savaging Miliband is like shooting fish in a barrel these days.

    I think you've gone wrong by arguing that 'more free parking for the high street' means more free parking ON the high street. After that point, your straw man argument falls flat.

    I agree that parking is a finite resource but having a 'first x hours free' arrangement makes perfect sense. I recall that some years ago (2008ish) one of the New Forest councils (Ringwood IIRC) abolished parking charges -paid for by contributions from the business community – the result was a massive spike in trade.

    Mr. Pants

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    In my small local town in the north of Spain we have controlled town centre parking.

    You get a ticket for one hour free then you have to move your car or get fined.

    It works fantastically. When I go to the town hall, or the Friday market or the health centre, I have always managed to find a space within short walking distance.

    Each area will have its peculiarities but encouraging short-stay seems to be the key. At the risk of being misunderstood, it is a case of turnover and in and out over a reasonable time frame for what people generally need to do.

  9. Rosscoe
    Rosscoe says:

    Mr Pants, Ringwood did abolish the parking charges but found that the spaces were all being used by people who were driving seperatly to Ringwood from Bournemouth/Poole meeting up, all bundling into one car/getting on the coach and then heading up the M27 together. They charge for parking now, though I think you can get the money back (up to two hours) when you shop in the town.As an example it would appear to prove our hosts point..

  10. sadcadaver
    sadcadaver says:

    What you say makes sense, but the balance can go both ways. Halifax council seem to have had a policy for years of reducing parking spaces in car parks in order to make people pay (either in parking fees or fines) on the roads. There is even a multi-storey car park that has been closed for years, with no thought to renovation or redevelopment, they just want scarcity to drive up fees.

    It has kind of backfired on them.

  11. Sean O'Hare
    Sean O'Hare says:

    Luke 1:47pm

    Sadly the UKIP have withdrawn their last glorious manifesto from their website. It was obviously done by some external IT contractors having a bet about what they could get away with..

    Actually Luke the 2010 manifesto was drawn up by double defector David Cambell Bannerman who now sits as an MEP for guess who? Yes that's right Jackart's wonderful Conservative Party.

  12. Mr Ecks
    Mr Ecks says:

    Don't worry about all this anti-BluLabour Sentiment Jackart–your pal Camoron will soon have all these nasty Kippers under his Extremist Control Orders so they won't be able to speak out anymore. A direct development from ZaNuLab's pioneering ASBOs (no need for trials or due process). Aren't we lucky to have a Very British Puke and Herr (sic) to Bliar as our Prime Minister.

  13. Dan
    Dan says:

    I rather think you may be missing the point on town car parking, because what councils seem to be doing at present is using car park fines (fines, as opposed to car park fees) as a way of raising money. To facilitate a fine-rich environment, they are not building car parks, but are introducing ever-more draconian parking restrictions.

    At some point, people tend to flip from thinking "This is annoying but the shops are nice" to "Sod this, they're out to get us coming and going, let us go somewhere else". When they go somewhere else, the council loses the fee revenue, the potential fine revenue, and the business rates from the shops as they close down through lack of business.

    The correct solution here is to legislate so that all fines imposed by a council go to central government; this removes the incentive to make money this way, and forces councils to think a little more innovatively.

    Thoughts on the lines of "How do we attract people away from the out-of-town complexes and back here? I know, let's build a number of very big multi-storey car parks, with low fees and make money on the fees and the business rates, which will improve as we put the out-of-town guys out of business".

  14. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    God, you 'KIPpers are ghastly. You all went into battle behind a laughable manifesto, and now seek to blame it on the tories, as you download your new opinions from Farage central. You're pathetic.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    If you live far enough from the shop variety that you want to visit, the ability to go by car and park is a positive factor in where you go. Provided the parking charge is reasonable – and what can be seen as more reasonable (to a driver) than zero? – it isn't a disincentive. Even a huge parking charge isn't much of a disincentive if there's no choice. Provision of parking space seems to me to be a service that needs to be paid for, and businesses like Tesco that can offer it free have a market advantage.

    What is diverting people away from small town centres is that even with a willingness to pay, there aren't the free spaces. At one stage I thought it might be free parking in out of town hypermarkets, but it isn't. Anyway, with a loss of shoppers comes a loss of shops, and eventually the high street becomes a haunt of curry houses and pubs – the formerly ubiquitous estate agents and building societies having already left.

    Whether the future is a return to people dwelling on the high street I cannot guess, but it seems a good idea to me, if the planners will let it.

    The car isn't just an adjunct to getting to the shops, sometimes it is an essential adjunct to getting your purchases home. My real sympathies lie with those unable to drive to out-of-town supermarkets to shop, as they must frequent the dwindling number of small shops with a smaller selection and higher prices.


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