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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.

Inspiration from Bogotá, Columbia

11 May

Policy makers around the world have been paying a lot of attention to the transport changes that have taken place in Bogotá, Columbia over the past decade or so, many of which were initiated by their remarkable Mayor from 1998-2001, Enrique Peñalosa who managed to reorient the city away from the car and towards public transport, cycling and walking. Here are some my favorite quotes from the man:

  • “Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”
  • “We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”
  • “A bikeway is a symbol that shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as a citizen on a $30,000 car.”
  • “If we’re going to talk about transport, I would say that the great city is not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can go safely everywhere.”
  • “One symbol of lack of democracy is to have cars parked on the sidewalk.”

And here he is explaining what he did and why:

This Streetfilm documentary explains how the bike free days work:

And this piece from the New York Times explains their clever bus rapid transit system work:

Simple really, almost child’s play, but it seems to be far out of reach for ‘developed’ countries. What exactly do we mean by the word ‘developed’ I wonder? I am reminded of how Gandhi  responded when asked what he though about ‘Western Civilisation’, saying that he thought that ‘it would be a good idea’.

Injustice to motorists, my foot!

20 Mar

The RAC Foundation complained today that motorists pay £32 billion in taxation each year but only get a ‘paltry’ £10 billion spent on road-building.

OK, so what if they had remembered to include the £8 billion ‘cost’ per year for road fatalities (Audit Commission, 2008), the £8-20 billion ‘cost’ of  the 50,000 early deaths caused by air pollution, much of it caused by road traffic (Commons Environmental Audit Committee, 2010 ) and the £7 billion negative effects of the emission of 90 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year (DfT National Transport Model Road Forecasts 2011, page 52, at an estimated cost of £70 per tonne (Social cost of carbon OECD)? Include those and the direct measurable costs of motoring have reached £33 – 45 billion comfortably exceeds what motorists pay, even without considering of noise pollution, loss of amenity and military campaigns aimed at protecting access to fossil fuels!

Also, why does one have to keep on reminding these organisations that taxation is expected to cover more than the direct consequences of the activity? Not doing so is like a gambler complaining that it is unfair that taxation from gambling brings in more money that is spent on the negative social to families and communities of gambling addiction, or a drinker/ smoker complaining that taxation exceeds the negative effects to society and family of their activity. Check out the great campaign, iPaxRoadTax for a history lesson in how motorists have been pleading for special tax treatment since Winston Churchill ended the Road Fund in 1937!

British Parking Award winners

10 Mar

The British Parking Awards event was interesting. It was big, there were 520 people sitting down diner with the prize-giving compered by Alexander Armstrong (who is more commonly seen on over on the BBC). Clearly there is money in parking, with many people representing the companies that build and operate the car parks, provide the technology were there; and also importantly, the people who enforce the regulations.

During the event there were a number of references to the fact that the sector gets a pretty bad press and grief from many motorists. The enforcement award went to Shropshire Council with Essex winning the Parking Partnership award; I have previously posted about Essex’s excellent ‘considerate parking initiative‘. I was disappointing not to hear any reference to bicycles or bicycle parking, or to any campaign that was about raising awareness of the consequences if selfish parking – may be next year. By way of background the event is organised each year by Landor-LINKs, who publish Local Transport Today and New Transit in addition to ‘Parking review‘.

The event did however leave me musing on why it is that free car parking is considered to be a ‘right’ (more about that later). Of course motorists, even in America, have established that roads should be provided for free by the state (which all sounds a bit socialist for the US really)! This right seems to then be extended to parking; For most normal motorists the not-availability of free parking ends up being directed at traffic wardens, the car park operators (who require people to pay a market rate for parking) and in the common ritual of driving for an extra 10 minutes to avoid paying for parking ‘out of principle’.

Foreign embassies in London evidently have a much more direct approach; Fines issued to 60% of embassy owned cars operating in London do not get paid; one Kazakhstan diplomat owed £53,820 for 471 tickets, two Sudanese diplomats owe almost £56,320 between and the US embassy owes Londoners £5m in congestion and parking fines. Kazakhstan and Nigeria have incidentally recently paid their fines; the USA and Sudan are apparently still holding out!

To sign off, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of what must be a very expensive car parking with 2 wheels up across a dropped-kerb within feet of the entrance to the award event. No apparent reason for doing so except probably habit. Would it help if the yellow line was painted a little wider or in a brighter colour I wonder?

Possibly the yellow line needs to be clearer?

On excursion – pavement parking Ha Noi style

9 Mar

This blog is very much about highlighting the need for action on pavement parking issues in the UK, however the Google alert I have set up for ‘pavement parking’ has been throwing up various article about a saga playing out in Ha Noi, Vietnam at present.

The current situation was summed up by one recent visitor who said: ‘Hanoi has great pavements, but they are useless as they are full of motorbikes‘ and the newspaper article announcing the ban this February explains: ‘The ban was brought in to try and ease traffic chaos and create more rooms for pedestrians, who are forced to climb over vehicles or walk on the roads to avoid parked vehicles‘.

When reading the article it becomes clear that there is also a well developed system of charging people to use these pavement ‘parking lots’: ‘One worker named Huong at a parking lot run by Hanh Ly Trading and Service Co Ltd in Nguyen Xi Street told the Viet Nam News she knew about the ban, but the local authority had issued no notices. Le Ngoc Anh, a resident in the Old Quarter’s Hang Chieu Street, said the ban should be carried out immediately as parking lots in the Old Quarters usually occupied all the pavements and encroached on the roads.

I like the way the article goes on to talk about people driving ‘huge slow cars’ with one occupant: ‘Ha Noi is home to about 3.8 millions of motorbikes and almost 400,000 huge, slow moving cars that often carried a single passenger. Among them, about 184,000 cars and 2.3 millions motorbikes are operating in inner city.‘ The population of the Metropolitan Area is 6.5 million so over half of the population appear to have a motorbike and under 10% have a car.

However…. there was clearly been a bit of a political backlash, and Vietnam News reported today that the ban is to be ‘eased’ stating that ‘Ha Noi has approved a Transport Department proposal to lift the ban on parking by all vehicles on the pavements of some streets in the inner city to meet the overwhelming demand for parking spaces‘. The article then explains that any parking: ‘would have to meet requirements including leaving at least 1.5 metres for pedestrians and not blocking the entire pavement‘. The 1.5 m bit sounds sensible, however if that is the case then why the need to say ‘not blocking the entire pavement‘ in the same sentence? Is there already an acceptance that the 1.5 meters is not going to be met?

In other parts of the city, however. there are moves to impose a ban on parking: ‘The HCM City People’s Committee has asked authorities in districts to take drastic measures to stop pavements being used for parking as well as for commercial purposes. Nguyen Trung Tin, deputy chairman of the city’s People’s Committee, said that districts should strictly impose fines so that pavements could remain clear. He asked that the city to revoke the licences of shops that used pavements for parking vehicles. “Each district had to impose a deadline for pavement clearance and ensure that deadlines were met,” Tin said.’

Finally, here are a couple of youtube clips of traffic in the city, not for the faint-hearted, but it seems to function in a crazy sort of way! You can see how the pavements are completely blocked by motorbikes at one point in the first video.

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)

Encroachment, obstruction, interference and nuisance

17 Jan

Suffolk County council explain on their website, that they “have a duty to protect the public rights of passage on the road and footpath network”; also that they have a duty to ensure that roads are free from “danger, encroachments, interference, nuisance and obstructions” and that their officers “are sometimes required to deal with businesses and individuals who obstruct or otherwise interfere with the rights of the public to use the road.” OK, so why are they not ‘dealing’ with the owners of these vehicles (and bins) who are encroaching on the highway, creating danger and interfering with the rights of the public to use the road, and use the pavement in particular?

Almost onto private property, but not quite!

Encroaching on the pavement from both sides at once

Ouch. No chance of getting along here.

Bins everywhere but no action from the authorities

Encroaching from both sides

A Parcelforce van this time, optimism knows no bounds!

Same old story, big car, small hard-standing and a pincer movement

More big cars ‘stealing’ part of the highway

A nasty tow-hook on this one

The pavement is impassible and the dropped kerb has been broken up by the weight of vehicles

These two vans have claimed this pavement as their permanent parking space

I will ask the council and my MP, Ben Gummer about this and see what they have to say.

Localism, or mob rule supported by the police?

10 Dec

Localism, the new coalition policy, is about allowing local people more say on what happens in their local area. The government’s plain English guide to Localism explains that “Instead of local people being told what to do, the Government thinks that local communities should have genuine opportunities to influence the future of the places where they live” (page 11). By contrast, mob rule (or, it give it it’s official name Ochlocracy) is a form of government where a vocal and intimidating group impose their will on a community. The Wikipedia article on Ochlocracy defines it as “government by mob or a mass of people, or the intimidation of legitimate authorities“. I note this recent article in the Financial Times on the risks of mob rule titled “Risk on the rise as political leaders give in to mob rule” showing how the current banking mess could descend into something very scary.

So.. when the police explained to me that they were not giving the owner of these vehicles pictured below a ticket because a number of people in the area didn’t want them to were they acting in the spirit of localism, were they being intimidated into not performing their legal duties or were they just being pragmatic? Is it the police’s job choose where to apply the law and where not? Before deciding not to put a ticket on the vehicles did the police do diligent door to door inquiries to see if there were any disabled people or old people who would like to get out safely, or children, or parents who walk to school but find the parking in the area just too difficult? I am sure they didn’t. The police do however have a newspaper cutting of the April 1 event we staged on the same street highlighting the difficulties that parents with young children have using the pavement  on their noticeboard which they take round schools. It seems hard to square that with allowing 100% blockage of the pavement because a few neighbours want it.

Fyi, these vehicles are breaking numerous very clear laws – in particular parking against the flow of traffic at night and parking at night without sidelights (a special rule for commercial vehicles over 1525kg curb weight) – and these streets are unlit between midnight and 5am. There are also the harder to prove offenses of ‘driving on the pavement’ and ‘causing an obstruction’.

R+J Windows and Debbage and Tubby (uPVC windows etc)

Total blockage

Everest Windows, same spot and I understand also the same driver

Another older view of R+J Windows

Where are the electric cars?

21 Nov

Where are all the electric cars? According to the latest RAC Foundation report, Keeping the nation moving, the government wants us to have 1.7 million of the things on the road by 2020 to be on track to meet our carbon reduction targets. Unfortunately only 106 people bought one in the last quarter even with a very generous £5,000 sweetener against each purchase – a total of 940 electric cars have been sold in 2011 (in and out of the scheme). At this rate it will take another 1,700 years until we meet the government’s 2020 target. Possibly that is why the RAC Foundation recommends that we should rely on petrol cars for a little longer (page 33) and should build more roads (because petrol cars are so inefficient when stuck in traffic). (page 34)

Unlike the RAC I am more interested in car clubs which had 161,000 members in the UK by January 2011, up from 112,298 members the year before. That is 161,000 people sharing only 3,055 cars between them, no wonder the motor industry isn’t that keen. Car club members tend to only use cars for the odd journey and are much more likely to walk, cycle and use public transport for everyday journeys reducing congestion and pollution for everyone and also the need to build roads. So, no wonder that the road builders aren’t keen.

The really interesting thing about car club membership however is the demographic profile. Here is a chart from the Carplus report shows that car club membership is strong amongst younger drivers which is always interesting. I wonder what the demographic profile of people buying electric cars is?

Car club membership by age

So… personally, if I was the new Transport Secretary I would not want to be sitting where Philip Hammond is sitting in the picture below taken in July 2011. I would pushing for money to be spent on supporting car clubs and would be resisting the road building and motoring lobby. If I was the RAC Foundation, or to give them their full title of ‘Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring Limited’ I would be worrying that it was all going horribly wrong.

Hammond in electric car

Lobbying ahead (continued)

21 Nov

The RAC Foundation has published another doom-laden but impressive report (60 pages this time). This one published last week was promoted with the heading ‘Millions more cars, billions less investment, much greater delay’ and goes on to detail how bad transport in the UK is and that it is going to get worse. They claim that there will be far more cars coming onto the road, that motorists are ‘over taxed’ and that there is not enough investment in roads. Do also check out my post about their last report and road lobbying generally which puts out the same general message.

RAC fears over lack of roads spending as cars increase

Here is a key graph they reproduce in the document as evidence for their case. The DfT, who produced the figures, clearly believe that the leveling off is a minor disturbance in a graph that will soon start romping upwards again. Others believe that this graph shows a peak and the possible beginnings of a decline – this theory is called ‘peak car‘.

Traffic projections (DfT as reported by RAC Foundation)

So… is this a pause in an upward trend, is it a permanent leveling off or is it about to turn down (peak car)? This is clearly a very important question  for planners.  Peak car is mentioned briefly on page 20 before being dismissed with the comment “But, significantly, ‘peak car’ does not remove the impact of ten million more people – who between them will drive four million more cars30 – in the UK in little more than two decades’ time. Whichever way you look at it, the result will be: more congestion“. What they are failing to acknowledge is that ‘peak car’ is about decline not leveling off.

They mention car clubs briefly (car sharing the North America) before dismissing it with the comment: “the impact on car usage, however, is not yet fully understood. Car sharing, car clubs and car rental are all growth areas and are likely to make their mark, mainly in large urban areas“. Others, including the founders of Zip Car, are delighted with the explosive growth of car clubshaving created a business with a valuation of $1 billion in just 11 years.

They also fail the growth of the express coach network and the phenomenal success of Megabus both in the UK and in the USA (a £400 million turnover business created from scratch in under 10 years according to Brian Souter). Greyhound is also doing well in this country and usage of National Express services are also increasing.

And of course they certainly do not quote Professor John Urray from Lancaster University who has predicted that “petroleum car system will finally be seen as a dinosaur (a bit like the Soviet empire, early freestanding PCs or immobile phones). When it is so seen then it will be dispatched for good and no one will comprehend how such a large, wasteful and planet-destroying creature could have ruled the earth. Suddenly, the system of automobility will disappear and become like a dinosaur, housed in museums, and we will wonder what all the fuss was about… changes in existing firms, industries, practices and economies. Just as the Internet and the mobile phone came from ‘nowhere’, so the tipping point towards the ‘post-car’ will emerge unpredictably“.

On a positive note they do talk up ‘pay-as-you-go’ driving, saying “‘Pay As You Go’ is a concept we are all deeply familiar with and find wholly acceptable. Phone charges are based on how much we talk and when we do so. Electricity and gas bills are calculated on the amount of energy consumed and the time of day it is used. Increasingly, water usage is also metered. Even in the transport sphere – on trains and planes, buses and coaches – we are comfortable with, or at least understand, the idea of differential pricing related to when we travel, and where we travel to“. What I don’t understand is why ‘pay-as-you-go’ won’t reduce the amount of driving if it was applied across the board. If the amount is driving is reduced then why would new roads be needed?