In­side Trans­port

Charg­ing to park at work is mov­ing back on to the agenda, says Alastair Dalton

The Scotsman - - Perspective -

Years be­fore con­ges­tion charg­ing in Ed­in­burgh was de­bated and aban­doned, an al­ter­na­tive curb on cars was re­jected by MSPS – charg­ing for of­fice park­ing spa­ces.

It has been vir­tu­ally for­got­ten in Scot­land since the Labour-lib­eral Demo­crat coali­tion ditched its plans in 2000, claim­ing they had no sup­port.

Well, it could be back. Seven years ago, Not­ting­ham in­tro­duced the UK’S first scheme, un­der which busi­nesses with more than 11 park­ing spa­ces are charged a work­place park­ing levy. This has raised mil­lions of pounds to help fund pub­lic trans­port im­prove­ments, such as ex­tend­ing the city’s tram net­work.

North of the Border, the scheme is qui­etly slip­ping back on to the agenda.

Trans­port min­is­ter Humza Yousaf told a fringe meet­ing at this week’s SNP con­fer­ence that not only were in­creas­ing num­bers of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties ex­press­ing in­ter­est, but his of­fi­cials were in touch with Not­ting­ham. Trans­port Scot­land de­clined to tell me more.

As Pro­fes­sor David Begg, the pub­lisher of Trans­port Times, who hosted the meet­ing, pointed out, the key thing about free work­place park­ing is that staff who are of­fered it, use it.

One of the big­gest headaches for driv­ers in ur­ban ar­eas is where to park your car, so if that prob­lem is solved, why wouldn’t you?

That cer­tainly seems to be the case with large and prom­i­nent of­fice car parks, yards from rail­way sta­tions in Glas­gow city cen­tre.

Com­muters are largely crea­tures of habit, none more so than mo­torists for whom the process is sim­ple com­pared to the per­ceived com­plex­i­ties and un­cer­tain­ties of pub­lic trans­port, such as the largely user-un­friendly way bus travel is or­gan­ised.

Scot­tish politi­cians are now bolder than they have been for a decade over tak­ing on the mo­tor­ing lobby. Anna Richard­son, the Sn­prun Glas­gow City Coun­cil’s sus­tain­abil­ity and car­bon re­duc­tion con­vener, put it starkly at the meet­ing. “The hard po­lit­i­cal truth is we need fewer cars,” she said. “I do not think we have got any choice.”

Glas­gow is al­ready a pi­o­neer in one ap­proach, in be­ing con­firmed this week as Scot­land’s first low emis­sion zone, from next year.

At some point af­ter that, only ve­hi­cles with the clean­est en­gines will be al­lowed into the city cen­tre. Although the coun­cil may only be talk­ing about re­stric­tions on buses so far, cars will be in­cluded even­tu­ally.

A work­place park­ing levy could be­come an­other line of at­tack, be­cause if com­pa­nies are in­sis­tent their staff should be free to drive to work, it is ar­gued they should pay for the con­ges­tion th­ese ve­hi­cles are adding to, and in turn help fund al­ter­na­tives to make cars less at­trac­tive.

The chief ex­ec­u­tive’s Mercedes may have the green­est petrol or diesel engine, but it is still tak­ing up space on the roads.

How­ever, such charges could prove a hard sell, just like 17 years ago.

Mo­tor­ing groups fear such a po­ten­tially blunt in­stru­ment will take no ac­count of in­di­vid­ual in­comes or travel habits. The Scot­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium has raised fears it might make Scot­land “a more ex­pen­sive place to in­vest or live”.

But po­lit­i­cal think­ing is shift­ing on trans­port pri­or­i­ties in cities. De­sign­ing ev­ery­thing around the car – at least as we cur­rently know it – may be turned on its head. The right to drive may soon have a much higher price.

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