Parking matters

There’s no such thing as a free parking place – somebody is paying for it. This is true everywhere: in town centres, at the beach and in the countryside. Some car parks may be free at the point of use but someone is paying for their upkeep and maintenance. If they are patrolled to keep them safe someone is paying for that too. So-called free parking is subsidised in some way, either by council tax payers or business ratepayers or a combination of both.
    
People don’t park to park. They park on their journey to do something else: to work, to shop, to play. Parking is a means to an end – not an end in itself, and the quality of the parking is the first and last impression of that experience. Making sure your customers and clients have a good experience in your parking facility says a lot about you and what you think of them.

Changing times
We no longer live nine-to-five lives these days; people work all kinds of hours and shops are open seven days a week. Sunday trading can be as intense as any Saturday ever was. Late-night opening and a cafe culture has provided us with what many call the night-time economy where bars and clubs and cafes and restaurants thrive until the early hours. This together with the growth in car ownership places demands on parking unlike anything we saw 10 or 15 years ago.
    
We are more demanding, more mobile and more diverse in how we spend our time than ever before. Is it surprising then that parking controls and charges reflect this out of necessity. Motorists rightly expect the same quality of service in the evenings as they do in the daytime and the costs of providing safety and security patrols, and a range of other services to ensure that the car park operates safely and effectively throughout its working life have to be met by someone. Increasingly that someone is the user of that car park, why is that considered unfair?
    
Parking managers up and down the country are keeping our streets safe and free from obstruction caused by indiscriminately parked cars, as well as improving road safety, keeping children safe when they come out of school, protecting spaces for residents or particular groups like disabled people and enabling servicing and deliveries to take place in high streets that would become congested if parking wasn’t managed.

The Great Parking Debate
Last month in Leeds the BPA held its very first Great Big Parking Debate. If ever an event sought to catch the imagination and current mood of not just parking professionals but those with an interest in town centres, communities, the economy, sustainability and a remit that by its very nature has parking in their world, this was it.  

Over the summer we’ve seen parking issues steadily climb up the political agenda with a punchy and persistent campaign from Eric Pickles and his department and this event was created in part to gauge the feelings of members and key stakeholders. What’s more, the BPA is calling for a Parking Summit in early 2014 and we’ve invited the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as well as Transport Ministers, to join us and key stakeholders at the Summit so we can have a real debate about how and why parking is managed.
    
What’s clear is that there is a disagreement within government and throughout the UK about parking policy, which in part is borne out of the BPA’s activities in lobbying the Department for Transport for a review of the penalty charge value outside London in England, one of a number of proposals put forward in our 2013 Master Plan for parking.

At the Sustainable Transport 2013 Conference held last month in London we told everyone about Park Mark® and the importance of good life care planning. We learned a long time ago that car parks are for people and they do not park a vehicle just for the sake of it. Parking is a means to an end not an end in itself. The quality of the parking is the first and last impression of that experience and car park owners and operators must ensure their customers and clients have a good experience in their parking facility.

What about safety?
10 years ago next year, in collaboration with Police and government, the BPA launched the Safer Parking Scheme or Park Mark® as it’s more commonly known, focusing on managing risks rather than design. Park Mark® is as much about reducing the fear of crime as it is about crime reduction itself and we believe it is important that motorists can readily identify all car parks with low levels of crime when choosing somewhere to park.
    
Traditionally, people choose where to park based on convenience and price. But how much better would it be for the consumer and the profession if they could make that decision with reference to relative safety and a reduced fear of crime? This is exactly what Park Mark® aims to do.
    
Today the Scheme boasts over 5,000 Park Mark® awards across the UK, representing about 20 per cent of all public off-street parking. These range from small neighbourhood car parks to major multi-decked car parks in large out-of-town shopping centres. The smallest award holding car park has just space for just 10 cars and the largest, over 3,000.
    
In the UK, operators from all sectors embrace the scheme including local authorities; train companies; healthcare providers; universities; retail parks; major shopping centres, as well as mainstream parking companies. We even have banks and insurance companies as members as they seek to provide better services for their customers and employees alike.

Service and maintenance
At the BPA, we see many examples of people investing in the refurbishment of car parks to improve lighting and surveillance and the overall quality of parking in the UK is improving year-on‑year. However, we are concerned that too many car parks are being closed for safety reasons and are therefore prematurely reaching the end of their useful life.
    
The BPA has a Master Plan objective which states: ‘Every car park should be properly serviced and maintained. We want to see more emphasis on life care planning for all of Britain’s car parks and appropriate funds should be set aside to ensure that they can be properly serviced and maintained.’
    
Premature or unplanned closure of multi‑storey car parks has a detrimental effect on the communities the car parks serve and works against the regeneration of town centres. Owners and operators should prepare and implement a life-care plan and undertake regular structural safety inspections which will identify defects and prompt repairs to minimise the risk of structural failure.
    
The BPA recognises that most motorists drive and park reasonably and responsibly in accordance with the rules. They avoid parking where they shouldn’t and they pay for parking when they should. Of course, parking enforcement should be fair and reasonable but safeguards are in place with well-established adjudication services for local authority controlled parking. Motorists now have an appeals service for parking enforcement on private land (POPLA) thanks to the work of the BPA – something that didn’t exist 12 months ago.

Money matters
It’s interesting that only recently the RAC Foundation published a report which finds “no evidence of local authorities hiking their charges” and that penalty charge notices are actually in decline. The report also finds there is a decline in income generated from off-street parking. The report finds that the surpluses generated have actually resulted from lower costs rather than price hikes and there has been little increase in revenue generated from the cost of parking. And yet the perception is the opposite.
    
The Office for National Statistics says that since 1994 the number of cars on the roads has increased from 21.5m to 28.7m that’s an increase of 34 per cent. And yet in London, we have seen a 20 per cent decline in the number of Penalty Charges issued by local Councils - that’s half-a-million less PCNs now than in 2008. Something doesn’t add up.
    
The BPA believes it is unfair that parking managers are being chastised for being more efficient, something that the public demands in times of austerity. In fact an increase in parking revenue could be sign of increasing footfall in a healthy town which meets the needs of its community.  
    
Additionally, everyone knows there are strict rules laid down by law that stipulate how surplus funds are spent and this means re-investment in traffic management that benefits the entire community. So the message to local authority parking managers from the BPA is – take care of your customers, and your car parks, and they’ll take care of you.

Further information
www.britishparking.co.uk

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