Friday, 2 January 2009

Residents' Parking - the Democratic Option?

Bristol City council's plan to introduce Residents Parking Schemes (RPS) this year is proving predictably controversial. Following the council's initial consultations last summer it became clear that there was a fair measure of support for RPS in some inner city areas abutting the existing Central CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone), particularly Kingsdown, Cliftonwood and parts of Clifton.

These areas suffer from high levels of parking by commuters displaced from the city centre by the cost of parking in the Central CPZ. Residents and visitors alike find it extremely difficult to find parking spaces in those areas and illegal, obstructive and arguably dangerous parking is rife. In addition the levels of car ownership within some of these areas, where most houses have been converted into flats, may well exceed what is available even without commuters. So it is not surprising that there is a support for RPS.

However there remain a substantial minority in the proposed RPS areas who are opposed to the idea and many outside the proposed RPS areas who also oppose the idea because of the knock-on effects on their areas as parking is displaced outwards. At the same time there is also a substantial minority outside these areas who support the idea and want to be included, for much the same reason, including this blogger.

There is evidence of building resentment between the pro RPS and anti RPS camps with rival web sites and rival leafleting taking place. The divisions have been amusingly characterised on Bristol Traffic in sectarian terms. The next big confrontation will be on Monday 5th January when the RPS is reconsidered by a Council committee following a call-in decision by the Conservatives last month. Both camps are expected to turn out in force to bolster their positions, so it should be good for entertainment value.

All of which led me to wonder if there was a less divisive, more democratic option whereby people could opt in or out of the RPS on an individual household basis rather than the currently planned collective area basis which is bound to cause resentment. Of course individual households will be able to choose whether to sign up to the RPS and thereby have access to the controlled parking spaces within the area under the present proposals, but the provision of controlled parking spaces will be all-or-nothing, within or without the defined zones.

But what if the provision of controlled parking spaces was made proportional to demand? Suppose 50% of households in a particular area want to opt in to RPS, why couldn't an equal number of controlled parking spaces be provided, only available to those household who have chosen to pay to join the RPS? Those households who choose to remain out of the RPS will continue to compete for the remaining uncontrolled spaces as at present.

Some or all of the controlled parking spaces could double up as Pay-and-Display spaces as in the existing Central CPZ to make better use of any spaces unused during the day. That would help address the visitor parking issue. Pay-and-Display charges would have to remain high (£1 per hour?) through the evenings and week-ends (unlike in the existing CPZ) to ensure that spaces remain available to RPS residents at these times.

Signing of the RPS may be more complicated than with an all-or-nothing approach, but if so that is something that could be resolved in due course with appropriate changes to the regulations. Other than that I can't think of any significant objection, other than it being an innovative approach (shock, horror). Of course there's no chance of the Council giving this option serious consideration unless pressured to do so by the public, so it's up to you lot. Is it worth a look, to avoid a lot of resentment and unpleasantness creating rifts in our communities?

Illegally parked cars pictured - P939MLX, VD05CTE, LD54ZPY, WU54NXW


SteveL said...

One problem with this is that by providing a large pool of open parking spaces, there is still incentive to drive round in circles looking for somewhere to park. One of the benefits of an RPZ -commuters know not to bother parking there- and its consequences: less traffic, less pollution is lost.

It also removes the vehicle limit on households in the zone. For cars 3 and 4, I'd just park them in the uncontrolled spaces, leaving 1 and 2 for the controlled spaces and the option to use them on weekdays. Admittedly, you will get that anyway, with places like the van-overflow-road of Montpelier springing up on the edges of the zones.

Anonymous said...

Is the Stephen Perry who appears to be fronting the 'Yes' campaign and making regular appearances in the Evening Post persistently focusing on the Tories rather than the issues, the same Stephen Perry who retired as Head of Planning at Bristol City Council in 2007?

Chris Hutt said...

No, I don't think it's the same Steve Perry.

Anonymous said...

Yes, SteveL, surely the prime purpose of controlled parking is to stop people cruising round and round in the hope of a space coming free - so no pay and display at all in residential streets is the way to go if pollution is what you are trying to cut down on.

Darlington Councillor said...

Hi Chris.

A few thoughts from Darlington - we introduced our first RPZ back in 1992, and I had the rather taxing privilege of bringing in successive schemes between 1993 and 2007.

Firstly, as you indicate, the City needs to decide what its streets are for. Some towns (Hartlepool in the North East is an example) regard streets within the zone as almost wholly for residents, giving up the entire street for their cars.

This has the advantage of being relatively straightforward to implement, and avoids the problem, as Steve says, of having non-resident cars driving round and round looking for spare spaces.

If the City Council is prepared to allow multiple passes to be bought by a single address, this may indeed be inevitable.

It does however, strip a lot of parking out of supply which may be economically very important for local shops and businesses. I know Hartlepool and Bristol are hugely different in scale, but you will inevitably have periods of the day when there are lots of empty spaces reserved for residents, as they do there, which could otherwise be being used by shoppers or commuters.

The alternative is to designate only part of the street for residents' parking, whilst giving up the rest for a mixture of short-stay (controlled by lining or charging) and unregulated parking (ideal for commuters, for example).

This approach recognises that the streets don't somehow belong to the residents alone, but are a resource for the whole community. It's the tack we've taken in Darlington, and for the most part it has been welcomed by local businesses.

It brings its own problems of course - how many spaces to reserve for residents, for example? Where are RP bays to be placed in the street? (always very contentious). We found that you can consult almost indefinitely around these issues, with no scheme suiting everyone. At some point, you have to accept that there will be winners and losers, and get on and implement the plans.

That brings me on to the question of democracy and RPZs. Clearly, you can't bring a scheme in unless it has local support of at least a simple majority. As I've indicated, however, the more detail the Council goes into at the initial consultation stage, the greater the opportunity for argument. Better by far to go to residents with something broad-brush, implement it, but promise a review after 5 years. (Loved the idea of residents who vote 'No' being able to opt out of the scheme by the way, but this wouldn't be practical - how do you deal with residents who change their minds later, or No voters being replaced when they move house - there wouldn't be the capacity to accommodate them).

RPZs can also appear to be a panacea for all ills, and outlying areas where there may be some localised parking problems may campaign vociferously for their introduction. Very often, however, that's just impractical from an enforcement point of view. That doesn't stop the issue becoming a long-running sore.

Then there's the cost. From what I've seen from your blog, the City's proposed charge for badges are (ahem) substantial. You have to remember that the administrative cost of RPZs are front-loaded - most of the cost is incurred in the design, consultation and implementation of the scheme (the lining and signing). The administration of badges annually is small beer in comparison.

So in Darlington we have a charge of £50 for the first year of the scheme, and then £25 thereafter. The real money to be made from the scheme is of course from the fines, but however well the scheme is designed, the Taxpayers Alliance will still be crying "Stealth Tax"...

All in all, RPZs can bring substantial relief to communities on the edge of town or city centres, but they are time-consuming and politically wearing to introduce. They certainly improve the quality of life for people living locally, and I hope my Labour colleagues in Bristol won't let voters forget the opportunist position currently being struck by the Tories.

RPZs work, and once a scheme is implemented, you can be sure that many other communities will want one. That will be a test of the City's capacity, however - RPZ's are labour-intensive as far as design and consultation are concerned, and it is likely to take years to bring in a comprehensive set of schemes.

Some prioritisation then may be necessary - what pet schemes is the Council prepared to sacrifice to accommodate the design and implementation of yet more RPZ's....?

Anonymous said...

Nick Wallis, interesting to hear your experience from Darlington, thank-you. However, it's evident that we in Britain are still in dark ages regarding our public space.

"Some towns .... regard streets within the zone as almost wholly for residents, giving up the entire street for their cars."

See the assumptions hidden in here?

My family are residents in our street. We don't have a car. Many of our neighbours and their children don't either.

We think the streets should be for us.
Not for cars.

When will our interests start to count? Not until the oil runs out, it seems.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear, Opal. So many of these arguments are concerned with the rights of car owners, both residents and commuters, to jam up the streets with their tons of metal, whether stationary or not, and very rarely with how the streets could look, sound, and smell if only their residents could get rid of this scourge. After all, you wouldn't be allowed to keep unlimited numbers of double beds at the side of the road or on the pavement - and a double bed is silent and doesn't give off fumes or injure people.

Government has a title "home zones" which it bestows on a favoured few, but all residential streets should have this consideration, and be treated as places where people live, not as short stay public car parks or race tracks, or an incompatible and competing mixture of the two.

As the public is so benighted on this subject, the way to start is to give preference to the residential motorists, barring the incoming ones from parking in residential streets, and then gradually close off more and more streets to car parking altogether, until every residential neighbourhood (not just privileged Clifton Wood) was marked "for access only" and everyone had to make their own arrangements for the private off-street storage of their cars - if they still wanted them, knowing they could no longer go everywhere door to door.

That way people would discover there was no need for a bureaucratic congestion charge, or parking services. However, Government wouldn't like that, because it would diminish the numbers working and therefore presumably voting for it.