Tag Archives: rac foundation

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.

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.

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!

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?


Beware, lobbying ahead

7 Nov

A new lobbying group “The Road Ahead Group” is apparently being set up by various business with interests in freight, and in building and operating roads. They will be lobbying Whitehall but according to the press aim to maintain a low public PR profile. True to their word, they appear to currently have no web presence but we do know that it has been set up by Brian Wadsworth who moved to a lobbying firm after a stint as Director of Strategic Roads, Planning and National Networks’ at the Department for Transport. Other supporters include Midland Expressways (who operate the M6 Toll road), my friends May Gurney and other infrastructure companies. Rather quaintly, one of their lobbying aims is to protect part of the Vehicle Excise Duty revenue for road building. (err, didn’t Winston Churchill get rid of that in 1937?)

In an apparently unconnected announcement in the past 24 hours the RAC Foundation and ARUP have claimed that the UK needs to spend £12.8bn building new roads; they talk about an infrastructure ‘shortfall’, outline 100 ‘urgently needed’ projects and say that current situation is ‘worrying’ and ‘concerning’. One thing they are not concerned about it carbon emission and climate change – the word carbon does not appear and the word ‘climate’ only gets mention in relation to the financial climate. They do however like toll rolls and Public Private Partnerships and by way of good examples they draw attention to the fact that Canada, Spain and the USA have built a lot of roads recently.

Curiously, given that neither Arup nor the RAC Foundation are publicly connected with ‘The Road Ahead Group’, but their report does happen to recommend that road building should be supported by “giving the sector a dedicated revenue stream, based on retained user charges and/or hypothecation of some motoring taxes (e.g. VED).” Incidentally, the RAC Foundation/Arup report is written by a former civil servant at the DfT, where ‘he sponsored the Department’s roles in major projects and transactions’. The doors are clearly still revolving – you can read about bit about revolving doors and lobbying in the UK on Wikipedia.

To sign off, here is an image from the RAC Foundation/Arup report. They don’t mention it by name, but it is this monsterous interchange in Los Angeles – an impressive bit of engineering for sure, but possibly not something any of us will want in our back yard, and indeed LA is going off roads and getting pretty excited about public transit.

Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange (Los Angeles)