You can only see the benefits of change, once you've made the changes

For anyone serious about understanding the complexity of parking and parking policy, then London Council’s “Benefits of Parking Management Report” is a good place to start.

In the majority of cases parking policy has a single objective, usually as a consequence of over-demand from one type of motorist that impacts upon another, such as commuters and residents. Solving problems like this requires behaviour changes to ensure the right balance of use. Both types of motorist need to accept change, but as humans we are generally not very good at that, especially if we believe it will cost us more money or take us more time.

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There are a variety of case studies in the report and comparisons of similar policies and schemes in other parts of the world, which reveal that we Brits behave pretty much the same as the Spanish and beyond. The same policies produce the same behaviour changes, which, although difficult to imagine ourselves doing, when we do, we are rather glad we did! So once we have embraced change and it works for us, our perception changes from negative to positive. The downside for policymakers is that this feeling is short lived because after a while the situation becomes an expectation and when that happens, satisfaction begins to fall.

Residents’ parking and town centre parking case studies also reveal differences in the value we place on different types of parking. Residents are often reluctant to change the status quo, such as a move to permit parking, even though the benefit is more available space, whereas businesses push for change such as removing parking charges from the high street, which is resisted by policymakers. Unfortunately free parking rarely delivers the expected outcome. Numerous reports have shown that it is the destination’s offer which is the most important factor for high street and town centre success and parking charges are much lower on the list of motorists’ priorities when thinking about somewhere to go. Furthermore, increased footfall may not have a corresponding increase in spend, thus clogging up spaces and creating congestion at large cost to the environment with no benefit to the high street. Since the average parking duration is 2 hours and costs less than £1, parking charges are merely a small irritating rash to be scratched rather than a disease of the high street.

Perhaps more surprising is that there is a hierarchy in parking and the commuter is at the bottom of the pile. Those who drive to outlying rail stations to finish their commute to London for example, are considered detrimental to the local economy since a car is left all day with little benefit to the area. But this is a bit unfair. If we are concerned about climate change, air quality and congestion and local authorities want us to switch to public transport then there has to be provision for long term parking. Not everyone lives near a railway station and therefore some part of the journey will need to be by car. Furthermore, it is quite possible that the commuter will visit a local petrol station, supermarket, convenience store or take-away so to put them at the bottom of the pile is to miss a very necessary part of overall transport policy and shows a certain snobbishness at turning down economic benefit however small it is assumed to be.

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