RAC Foundation – failing to see the obvious?

18 Jul

The RAC Foundation has just published one of their weighty tomes, which this time looks at parking. As always, their reports seem to contain both useful new information and analysis which they then interpret from a ‘motorism‘ viewpoint.

This report confirms that private cars are only actually used for an astonishingly low 3% of the time(p.24), that one-third of front gardens have already been turned into hardstanding,(p.10) with 25% of vehicles being left on the highway over night, rising to 60% in high density areas.(p.vi) Motorists pay an average of only £42 in parking fees annual, excluding residents charges(p.vii) with local authorities make an average of only £60 per vehicle in fees/fines.(p.102)

The report studiously fails to mention the huge role that car clubs play in reducing parking pressures mentioning car clubs only twice noting rather unhelpfully, that “all cars take up kerb space and cause congestion“(p.55) in a section which confuses car club cars with private vehicles powered by alternative fuels. This is despite evidence that each car club car typically replaces between 6 and 20 private cars!

It also repeats the commonly held view that ‘inadequate’ parking inevitable means that cars will litter the pavements: “Inadequate provision of parking results in parking on pavements and verges,blocking roads for other vehicles. It can cause disputes between neighbours and reduces the opportunity for children to play outside.” Personally I don’t believe that this is inevitable; support for alternatives combined with effective policing works well in many thriving and prosperous cities. People own less cars, keep them further from where they live and/or make alternative transport arrangements. If you really want child-friendly cities then look to Freiburg and other places which largely reject the private car, not to larger car-parks.

The words ‘adequate’ and ‘inadequate’ appear a total or 25 times through the document and seem to being used to imply that it is practical to provide sufficient parking in our cities and that the lack of this parking is a failing of the authorities and has nothing to do with the size of private cars or the fact that they are unused for an average of 97% of the time! Yes, we should ensure that children receive ‘adequate’ clothing and food and that the elderly receive ‘adequate’ heating and care, but most adults should be able to provide for their transport needs within their own means. I suggest that ‘limited’ would be a more suitable, and less loaded term to use in future.

The report does suggest that “there is an argument in principle that space should be charged for as a scarce resource“.(p.102) but then warns that “paying for parking is an emotive subject, as motorists feel that they should not pay for parking on the street, it being seen as common property for which they have already paid through taxation“. In this case there is a note of reasonableness around charging, which is then neutered by a warning not to try it!

The RAC Foundation blog post is, as usual, more opinionated and rehearses the injustices metered out to motorists. Here are a few examples:

There is a strong suggestion that is it unreasonable for motorists to pay more for parking than the cost of collection: “Together, councils in the rest of England made a surplus of £310 million in 2009/10 from parking activities“. Two things are interesting about this, firstly that the ‘surplus’ is so small, working out at about same amount that Barclay’s Bank have just been fined for being very naughty; it is also the use of the word ‘surplus’ which neatly forgets the value of the land, the cost of maintaining the facility or the pricing of scarce resources.

The blog reiterates that planning authorities should provide enough suitable parking at ‘the right price’ and again uses the word ‘adequate’. To quote: “providing adequate parking in the right place at the right price is a big challenge for planning authorities.” How are they meant to do that? Should we should knock down one house in twenty and turn it into a multi-story car-park made available for only the cost of cleaning it so people can continue to own more private cars without paying the full economic cost? If not, then what exactly do they suggest?

Again, apparently being intentionally thick (sorry, and this is my personal view, not a statement of fact), the author goes on to again imply that authorities should provide ‘adequate’ parking for private cars as part of their general responsibility to society: “Unlike their legal obligation to keep traffic moving there is no law that makes them provide adequate space for stationary cars, though the two topics as inextricably linked“. This of course neatly avoids remembering that car clubs remove many of the parking pressures, and that bicycles, motorbikes and public transport require limited or no space, so these issues are not ‘inextricably linked’ except in the mind of a Motorist (the ones with a capital ‘M’).

Finally, it is worth noting that the blog post is littered with emotional language, including the following phrases: “there is a fear that councils regard parking provision as an afterthought“, “it is a hugely emotive topic“, “the suspicion amongst many…“. The use of emotional language is not generally helpful and tends to result in less intelligent and more primitive responses. Please keep the emotional language out of it so that we have a better chance of thinking effectively and rationally about this.

2 Responses to “RAC Foundation – failing to see the obvious?”

  1. Graham Martin-Royle July 18, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Grrrr! It’s not inevitable that lack of parking spaces leads to pavement parking, it’s lack of enforcement that leads motorists to believe that pavement parking is acceptable. If motorists had had to suffer enforcement for the past 50 years, being fined every time they parked on a pavement, how many would still be doing it as a matter of course? Yes, there will always be some who would flout the rules but the vast majority would have learnt not to do it.

    This is another example of Institutional Motorism (I do love that phrase).

  2. Jonny Haw August 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Upon hearing that cars spend 97% of their lifespan sitting idle, any rational person would conclude that cars are a hideously inefficient waste of money and raw materials. Yet the RAC Foundation somehow turns it into a pro-car rant! Absolutely fascinating how the mind of the “Motorist” works…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: