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Car parking arguments go on for ever

Arguments about how car parking space should be allocated, and to whom, is one that seemingly goes on for ever. It would help if the parking issue was recognised for what it really is – a market in real estate.

More people want to park their cars than there are spaces for them. There is more demand for parking spaces in some areas, such as city centres, than in others, out in the suburbs. If everyone has a right to park outside their own front door, then they will not be able to park outside anyone else’s front door when they drive anywhere. A few simple questions just need to be answered.

  • Does everyone have an equal right to all the road space?
  • How should the road space be allocated?
  • Do people have a special right to the car parking spaces near their homes, with local residents getting them at a fraction of what other people coming from outside are willing to pay?
  • Or should the spaces be rationed entirely by price?
  • Who should pay for enforcement of the rules?

If some people get the spaces at cut-price, then the council is giving up revenue and the spaces will be rationed by queuing, since demand will exceed supply. If the parking charges are at market levels, then some people will complain but there will always be spaces available. It is a simple choice. No options will satisfy everyone. The issue just needs to be openly discussed as a question of economics and equity, and the implications of whatever decision is made should be fully understood.

This article in the Brighton and Hove Argus carries the headline “Brighton and Hove City Council’s £7 million parking profit”. It reveals that city drivers pay more than £40,000 to park every day -and the amount is rising. New figures have revealed Brighton and Hove City Council is raking in a record amount through parking charges, more than even its own staff had been expecting. An editorial in the same newspaper argues that the price of residents’ parking permits should be reduced.

There is a real lack of understanding of the economics here. Residents’ parking  in Brighton cost £104 a year and there are long waiting lists – it takes between 8 months and a year to obtain one, depending on the area. Put plainly, it means they are not overpriced. On the contrary, the council is giving up revenue, as it could obviously charge much more, to the optimum point when there were always a few spaces available without a wait. This would of course be seen as tough but from an economics point of view it would make perfect sense, because another way of looking at the loss of revenue is to compare the prices for permits with the regular charges for on-street parking. These range from 65 pence to £3.20 an hour, depending on the area, which means that a parking bay in the city centre can take around £5000 a year. Thus, each resident’s permit represents a subsidy of, at a conservative estimate, around £4,000 a year.

And what is the revenue being spent on? One of the things supported is the substantial cost of the over-60s bus pass scheme, a misguided idea since most pensioners would probably rather had the extra cash, since many of them for one reason or another, hardly travel by bus anyway. Another is the provision of much-needed pedestrian crossings and other street improvements.

It is not helpful when newspapers local or national fail to set out the full case and appeal to immediate selfish interests. The media has a duty to promote public understanding of complex issues, not to cloud them.