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Could we redesign vehicle scrappage to meet the needs of all road users?

16 Sep

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London has recently suggested that drivers of older diesel cars would be charged an additional £10 per day to drive in London and given a rebate of £1000 or £2000 if that scrap a dirty diesel and replace it with a new clean mode as part of a new scrappage scheme. Strangely, on becoming mayor in 2008 he cancelled Ken Livingston’s proposed £25 per day congestion charge for the most polluting vehicles  saying “I am delighted that we have been able to scrap the £25 charge, which would have hit families and small businesses hardest”, but anyway, Boris will always be Boris and will always be unpredictable and will always play to the camera! There are too many things wrong with this scheme for it to be worth detailing them, suffice to say the main winners would be car manufacturers and retailers.

This  carrot/stick proposal did however leave me wondering if the scrappage concept could be reworked to meet the needs of all road users, to reduce the number of cars on GB roads and in particular to reduce the number of cars parked on our streets.

First – the stick. An annual fee of £36 (10p a day) would be charged for people who wish to leave their car regularly on the street overnight, where safe and legal, to be paid to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (VDSA, formerly VOSA) annually as part Vehicle Excise Duty. The term ‘Regularly’ used above could be defined to mean that the vehicle was stored over-night on more than five occasions on more that three separate weeks, thereby excluding someone who leaves their car on the street over night once in a blue moon. Assuming that some 50% of 34 million vehicles owners pay the fee, it would raise £600 million per year.

Now for the carrot. This £600 million would be used to incentivise people to scrap a vehicle they own, paying out a modest £150 – £200 per vehicle to the first 3 to 4 million people who scrap a car each year. Dead cars are actually worth some £150-200 for scrap anyway, making £300-£500 in total – so would be a useful sum to many people. Needless to say the £36 per year over-night parking permit would irritate some people to get rid of their car or move it onto private property and would ensure that no one who parked on the street overnight would be able to pay £0 VED.

My guess is that this would work on many levels, resulting in:

  • people moving their vehicle onto private property to avoid the fee
  • people selling their vehicle to avoid the fee
  • people scrapping old cars both to get the refund and to avoid the fee
  • a less congested road network
  • a huge debate about whether this is good policy or an outrageous liberty
  • bringing many parties together who wish to see a reduction in parking pressure on our roads
  • a way out for provide politicians who have allowed this mess to build up over the years
  • the creation of an economic lever that prices this ‘externality’ which until now been un-costed
  • demand for additional some new vehicle sales as well?

How would it be enforced? Authorities would drive along urban streets at night a few times a month with a CCTV vehicle and record number plates. They would then filter out those who have paid and send the resulting details to VDSA who would correlate this with other sightings and issue fines to keepers of vehicles that have parked on-street for more than the allowed number of occasions. It is likely that the enforcement process would do more that cover its costs from fine income with the surplus being available to increase the incentive to scrap vehicles.

Would it be popular? It would certain generate howls of protest and reams of coverage in the papers, however a charge 10p per night for parking on public property is hardly a ripoff and street parking is widely recognised as being a serious issue with the majority of the population supports action on this. Up to 3 million people a year would befit directly from the scheme when they scrap vehicles, including many who would have scrapped them anyway.

As such I think there could well be more people for it than against it. As a reference point, I have calculate that some 1.5 million are scrapped per year on average, so with a target of 3 million per year would result in a doubling of vehicles being scrapped. If sufficient people were not incentivised to scrap vehicles by the offered refund, it could be increased until it was.

There would of course be unintended consequences which would need to be considered, including people who convert their front gardens into parking to avoid the fee and increased surveillance of the population by the state to name but two. I believe that these should be identified and managed rather than being used as a reason not to do anything.


Are the @racfoundation being a bit silly again?

26 Jul

I notice that the RAC Foundation have again been using the ‘surplus’ word in relation to parking, this time it is in an article titled ‘Councils make half a billion pounds surplus from #parking each year‘ in which they express irritation and surprise that Westminster Council made a ‘surplus’ of £38 million from parking fees last year. Needless to say, their definition of ‘surplus’ ignores all capital costs as usual. This may sound like a lot, but this is a place where a single 5 bedroom flat can cost £30 million and office rental can run to £100K per week! Indeed, a single parking space, (at 320 sq ft) would cost £32,000 per year if rented out at £100 per sq ft, which is about right for Westminster.

It isn’t just the RAC Foundation who seem to be a bit blinkered in relation to parking in Westminster. Go back only a few months and we find a shop-keeper and a bishop both complaining about the terrible problems that would be caused if Westminster Council charged for parking on Sundays. The shop-keeper, Philip Green, explained that “people who come to London know they have got to find a place to park. Charging people on a Sunday is just outrageous behaviour” and the Bishop of London explained that “detrimental to the parishioners who have met Sunday by Sunday in our parish churches for hundreds of years“.

So.. not only do we have an organisation whch is no-doubt populated by very intelligent people calling the whole market economy into question, we also have a very rich shop-keeper suggesting that the city would grind to a halt unless people are allowed to park for free in the most expensive part of London and a bishop who seems to believe that parishioners have been driving to church for hundreds of years. Most remarkable! Personally I would suggest that charging motorists for parking on the highway in Westminster (and also in Kensington/Chelsea and other expensive areas) makes a huge amount of sense.

A happy Mr Toad!

21 Jan

Mr Toad will be delighted that he can continue to park for free in Westminster. Colin Barrow, the councilor leader (Conservative) said he would step down in March after announcing that the council’s controversial plans to actually charge people to park cars in one of the richest places in the country during evenings and on Sundays was to be scrapped. Paul Dimolden, Westminster’s Labour group leader said that he had paid the “ultiminate price for his poor judgement”. Don’t you just love party politics! I find it curious that this is the second place where Conservatives have been pressing for tougher parking restrictions and where the local Labour group has been opposing it.

A very happy toad! (copyright image)

All in a tizzy in Westminster

3 Dec

Philip Green is outraged that motorists in Westminster will be charged to park on the street until midnight each weekday and until 6pm on Sundays. He says “people who come to London know they have got to find a place to park. Charging people on a Sunday is just outrageous behaviour” (umm, most people come by train and a few people seem to think your tax arrangement are a bit outrageous as well, and while we are at it, could you please stop your staff parking in the pedestrianised Arras Square in Ipswich?).  The Bishop of London said he was concerned that the legislation would be “detrimental to the parishioners who have met Sunday by Sunday in our parish churches for hundreds of years” (gosh, and to think that they have been driving to church in cars for hundreds of years – amazing). Karen Buck, MP for North Westminster thinks the charges would be illegal (actually, Karen, there is significant legal evidence that it is illegal to park on the highway at all –  Surrey County Council says if clearly on their website, stating that: “in common law, drivers have the right to pass and re-pass along the road. There is no legal right to park on a road, verge or footway“). Lord Young, the PMs business advisor said that the move ‘would destroy the West End’ (of course it would your Lordship – people come to see all the cars lined up on the roads, without them what is there to see).

Philip Green is ‘outraged’

Number crunching

4 Mar

Annual cost of a operating a single school crossing patrol in Suffolk: £2,232. Annual cost of keeping a second-hand car on the road : £4,441 (not including any actual usage – RAC figures)

So… Pass 50 parked cars and the ownership costs are the same as all of the Suffolk Crossing patrols which are to be disbanded in the summer. Pass 250 cars (which doesn’t take long) and the annual ownership costs have hit £1 million which is the same as a very fancy boat.


£234m repair bill for damage to pavements by illegal parking

3 Jan

Cambridgeshire County Council estimates that the cost of repairing damage to pavements from illegal parking amounts to £3 million each year. Based on the population of Cambs this comes out at about £234 million per year for the country. This does not cover the cost of policing, installing bollards and other devices to stops vehicles parking illegally or the cost of compensation claims for trips and falls caused by this damage.

So.. when the motoring organisations complain about the £300m raised by councils from parking fines each year one can remind them that this only just pays for the damage caused to the pavements without considering the cost of collection!

Damaged pavement – photo by Alan Stanton

Broken pavement – Poynton Road London N17 Photo Alan Stanton

Broken pavement – Park View Road N17 – Photo Alan Stanton

Follow the money

10 Dec

During the initial investigation of the Watergate scandal the ‘deep throat’ told reporters at the Washington Post to ‘follow the money’. It is certainly interesting to follow the money from parking fines.

Fines given out by the police appear to go into general Treasury funds, ie the money is treated just like most other taxation. Given that police funding is being cut and that for every police officer dealing with parking offenses there is one less police officer dealing with other crimes I suggest that the level of enforcement we will see will decrease over time as they concentrate on more urgent issues.

Fines handed out by the councils using civil enforcement powers on the other hand are retained by the council. In most councils this is ring-fenced and can only be used for enforcement purposes with any surplus available for highway or environmental schemes. Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (Section 55) The AA do say that it would be a breech of the Secretary of State’s guidelines if a council viewed civil parking enforcement as a way of raising revenue, however others have argued that the level of fines should be raised to ensure that fines need to be higher to act as a sufficient deterrent in areas where official parking charges are high.

A total of 328m was paid out by motorists in parking fines in 2008-2009 which works out at £6.14 per head. Westminster Council raised a whopping £42m. If the number of registered vehicles in the UK continues its relentless climb the temptation to park illegally will only increase and fine incomes will probably also climb.

What this means is that as long as the cost of collection is lower than the amount of income raise then there should be no risk of parking enforcement for civil offenses (such as yellow lines) falling due to reduced council revenue. As such I suggest that we press councils on enforcement for which they are responsible, for example in Arras Square that I reported on a few days ago. Check the map in The Law section to see if your areas has opted for civil enforcement.

Highway robbery?

25 Nov

Local Authorities have written to the Department for Transport asking for the maximum fine for illegal parking to be raised from £70 to £120 (still subject to an early payment 50% discount) giving a maximum cost of £60 for someone who pays quickly. This request is for maximum fines outside London to be able to be as high as in London. While researching this just now I came across a long rant about the injustice of it all in the Independent in 2006 titled Highway Robbery.

The AA say that it was a ‘clear breach’ of the government’s rules because “The guidelines state that local authorities should not view civil parking enforcement as a way of raising revenue”.

Lets examine that claim.

Firstly, surely the purpose of a penalty for breaking the law should be sufficient to encourage compliance? If parking legally costs £20+ (as it does in Cambridge and some other places) then the fine needs to be considerably higher than that should it not?

Secondly. What is the cost of illegal parking? The total national fines were £330m last year. What does the AA think that should cover? Just the salaries of the parking wardens and police? What about the legislation regarding the creation of yellow lines (£1,500 a time), installation of all the bollard sand fences needed to physically stop drivers parking on the pavement, the costs of repair cracked pavements and verges turned to mud as in the following picture.

Ruined verge

Personally, I think that the AA keeping are keeping their blinkers well and truly fixed on the narrow enforcement costs. Is it not the motorists who are doing the ‘highway robbery’ by claiming all of the highway and then taking a chunk of the pavement as well. In addition they then use every trick in the book to make enforcement difficult?

People may be interested in seeing the fuss and denial over the years about speed cameras which raise £110m per year all of which was used for road safety work until this year when the new government ‘raided’ 40% of it. Check out the Wikipedia articles on UK speed limits and UK speed limit enforcement but if you really want to see it ‘warts and all’ then look at the associated talk pages and history. The encouraging thing is that the RAC Foundation and the AA are now supporting speed cameras.

I will take a look into what the costs are and do a post about it soon. It was, of course, only because the parking enforcement was so broken in the first place that I started this blog.


5 Nov

Tory run Reading Council are planning to bring in a pavement parking ban in January 2011 which will not only help clear the pavement of private cars but will also raise money for the council. Judging by the complaints it might actually be effective. Labour opposition are saying that it is a cash cow and that people have ‘no option than to park on the pavement‘ – yawn!

Cash cow!

The conservative transport leader, Richard Willis, says that they will start with warnings letters before issuing fines. Some Labour councillors have asked for all the roads in their wards to be exempted until there is a public consultation. Labour councillor Tony Page claims that the “The layout of our streets is such that many people have no alternative but to park on pavements or verges if they want to have their cars anywhere near their homes” and that is it just a cash cow!  Now where have we heard that before!

Kirsten Bayes , a Liberal Democrat seems to have a clearer idea of the issues, saying that whereas people “struggle to park without going on to the pavement” that the pavements were “meant to be used by pedestrians, disabled users, wheelchair users and buggy users”.

Hertz are being more helpful and set up a car club at the University last month.

Further reading and references

Some of these links are a bit unreliable. Sorry about that but I think it is a problem the far end