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How can decisions made in parking impact the local economy?

13/07/20

This article is the fourth in a series about parking in a post COVID-19 world where hygiene and economics are of paramount importance. To see our last piece on The Digital Transformation of the Smart City, click here.

This week’s article is about how decisions made in parking now can impact the local economy in the future.

Green car park with lots of free spaces

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the parking sector. With shops and workplaces shut, cars have been left dormant on driveways for months leading to loss of income for thousands of car parks and the businesses they facilitate.

As the world resumes regularity, the way parking facilities operate must be in line with the “new normal”, where hygiene and economy are vital factors for recovery. Car park facilities should ensure patrons can pay without touching equipment and congregating near to one another, but without creating an environment that discourages people from visiting.

Consider how the quality of a car park and its facilities can deter or encourage visitors, and how this impacts local economies who have been left reeling from months without customers. A clean, well-managed car park has the genuine potential to increase footfall in towns and cities, helping shops and services to survive and thrive post-pandemic.

It is known all too well that a poorly managed car park causes stress and even deters people from visiting the local area’s shops and services. So how can facilities encourage patrons through parking, while ensuring the necessary hygiene and social distancing standards are being met?

Car park with vehicles parked outside of bays

The ‘free’ parking argument

It is often said that nothing comes for free, well, the same is true for parking. On the face of it, and indeed to drivers, free parking seems to be a good idea – making parking free encourages more people to drive and park. It also simultaneously removes contamination risk via the touching of P&D equipment and mobile phones. The media regularly cites the argument for free parking at shops and hospitals, for example. There is another side to this story, though. Free parking is not necessarily a good thing for the economy and is open to abuse from staff and residents rather than being a benefit for its patrons.

Look at Scotland, where Nicola Sturgeon announced an end to parking fees at most of its hospitals in 2008. Spaces became so overcrowded people resorted to leaving their cars on pavements, grass verges, double yellow lines, loading bays and even disabled spaces. Appointments were missed, general chaos ensued, and in 2015, the Scottish Government admitted the policy had already cost £25m in lost parking revenue.

One hospital in Wales (where parking is also free) had to build a new multi-storey car park and enforce rules by hiring an external contractor. Without car parking charges, maintenance costs of these sites cannot be covered. If there is less money available to upkeep safe and modern facilities, car parks become neglected – a potential health hazard for hospitals and a major deterrent for visitors to town centres and tourist sites.

This is not to say there doesn’t need to be an overhaul of many car parks, particularly in light of the pandemic where congregating (we explored congregating in car parks in a previous post), touching phones and using coins isn’t the ideal scenario. So, what is the solution?

Young family walking back to car in car park

Fair pricing and ease of use

Heavy enforcement in car parks does not necessarily equate to better compliance. It can actually have an adverse effect and deter drivers from visiting car parks (which might be the only car park serving a local high street). Instead, increasing efficiency, hygiene and compliance for drivers will result in repeat and trusted visits. Heavy enforcement is often an unnecessary step when now, more than ever, there needs to be a clear understanding and ease of use when visiting the UK’s car parks.

Local authorities and private operators do not need to offer free parking to encourage visitors. Instead, just by providing clean, safe, and touchless facilities in car parks, the UK public can rest assured that all the necessary precautions have been taken to ensure they have the safest journey possible (without worry or hassle about what they should do once they park their vehicle).

By offering zero touch payment options to drivers, there will be an increase in fair tariff revenue generation from car parks, as well as a direct cash injection into the local economy. Rather than watching the clock or having to decide whether to top-up their parking, people will stay for as long as they wish, rather than if their parking allows them to. This will result in greater tariff generation for authorities and operators, and increased spending in shops and leisure facilities, just when the economy needs it most.

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