Tonight’s meeting at Surrey Heath was on the thorny and controversial subject of car parking charges and in particular, how much should people pay to use the Camberley Town Centre car parks?
In all my time since 1999, this has been a regular topic for discussion and again is one of those balancing acts. No-one wants to pay much to park their car but the money goes to subsidise some of our other services like day centres and also maintain our car parks.
On the table was a proposal to increase the charges so:-
Knoll Road would now be £1 an hour, £1.50 for 2 hrs, £2 for 3 hrs, £3 for 4 hrs and £4 above that with evenings up from £1 to £1.50. This means charges going up by 25%-50%.
The (much busier) Main Square car park increases would be lower namely £1.80 for 2 hrs, £2.30 for 3 hrs, £3.50 for 4 hrs, £5 for 6 hrs and £7 for all day and evenings being £2 from £1.50. These increases are around 10% apart from a 33% increase for evenings.
In order to justify these large increases, an independent consultant (at what cost?) had assessed a number of other town centres and felt we were on the low side.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t actually address the psychology of the average car parker which goes something like this…
If you live in Surrey Heath and want to go shopping, where do you go? Camberley Town Centre maybe? Woking? Guildford? Your local village? or maybe The Meadows, Watchmoor Park or Farnborough Gate which are all free of charge.
But you probably didn’t think about Crawley, Dorking, Elmbridge, Epsom, Horsham or Staines (or even Bolton which got a mention!) and yet they were all places thought to be useful comparisons…put simply, their charges are irrelevant if Surrey Heath residents would not consider going there in the first place.
Secondly, anyone who lives in residential areas around Camberley will know that many workers refuse to pay £4 or £6.50 a day for the Council’s car parks and instead use Park Road, Heatherdale Road or others and walk instead. This suggests that although the Council thinks it offers good value, the cost benefit analysis for the workers is that the Council’s car parks are too expensive for them compared to the alternative (free parking and a 10 min walk). They simply don’t see the point of paying £20 to £35 a week to park their car at work and are prepared to spend 20 extra minutes a day commuting (i.e. walking).
Thirdly, Knoll Road is currently not a busy car park. There are numerous places in the town where you can park completely free of charge in the evening so it is only really going to affect theatre goers. These people are of course supporting the Council in other ways so as helping to reduce the enormous subsidy to the theatre.
The interesting point tonight was that many traders had apparently privately contacted the Council to express their concern at the proposals in light of what they believe is reduced footfall and the impact to their businesses. Unfortunately, whilst Camberley has held up reasonably well, many shops have still closed for various reasons.
Rather than fiddling with the system and making unpopular changes, one radical solution would be to use a pricing system similar to planes, trains and football clubs. Put simply, you charge less when your demand is low (weekdays and evening) and charge more when demand is high (weekend and Christmas)
We do exactly the same with spaces in the car parks so for example, rather than charging the same throughout a car park, a ground floor premium space (popular with shoppers) costs more than a space on the top floor (popular with workers). This would also help some of the other “parking psychology” issues such as people desperately trying to get into the first space they see and holding up the queue for everyone else.
Parking charges are an important income stream for the Council but the key is to be innovative and to find the tipping point to maximise our income – sadly a missed opportunity…