WMN opinion: At £189-a-minute, parking charges are beyond a joke
Remember the days when parking the car was simply a matter of spotting a space and driving leisurely into it? No checking in the pockets for change; no mobile phone texts to the car park owners demanding your credit card number and registration. Just pull-up, get out, conduct your business and then return to the car park and drive away.
They are, sadly, but a dim and distant memory, apart from at supermarkets. Car ownership has increased enormously since those days. Local authorities, the major owners of car parking spaces in our towns and cities, have discovered the value of the spaces they allocate to motorists and how much money they can raise from parking charges.
But has it gone too far? With councils earning a staggering £189 a minute from charging motorists to park and the overall income from charges, permits and fines topping £40 million in our region last year, many drivers will say 'yes'. Add in the fact that while car parking charges are high the amount spent on road maintenance and other services for drivers is falling woefully short in many areas, and it is hard not to agree that motorists are being used, as the TaxPayers' Alliance complains, as cash cows to subsidise services.
At least once council is admitting as much. Exeter City Council's Rachel Sutton, who is responsible for transport at the local authority, told the Western Morning News that "like all businesses, the city council needs to make its assets work." Yet Exeter city council is not a business and, it could be argued, the city's car parks are not an "asset" to be utilised for the purposes of raising money, but one of the services the council provides. Yes, the charges need to cover the cost of providing that service but should they make a profit? That is surely questionable.
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We accept that the money made from parking charges across the Westcountry has fallen last year compared to 2011. Other factors may be responsible for that, however, not least the continuing downturn in the economy which will have affected shopping habits. The bottom line is that councils now increasingly see their car parks as a means to raise an income, and not just to finance the car parking service but to help underwrite other services too.
Motorists already feel under pressure because of the eye-watering tax rates the Government charges them every time they fill up with fuel, plus the high cost of road fund licences. If all the road surfaces were like silk, traffic flows well managed and facilities for drivers second to none in the UK, the complaints would be nothing like as loud.
Yet here in the Westcountry in particular a car is a necessity for many people; not a luxury. Motoring costs are crippling yet the roads are often in a poor state of repair. When all of that is added to parking charges which have gone from reasonable to, in many cases, extortionate in a few short years, no wonder drivers complain. Sadly they can do little but grin and bear it.