The UK Parking Experience. What do the general public really think about the parking experience in the UK? Find out here as we discuss the latest research published by the BPA.

The public verdict on parking in the UK – Part 1 – By James Hetherington

This is the first part of a two-part blog which looks at the UK parking experience and the findings of a recent parking survey published by the British Parking Association (BPA). We will also compare these findings to other research we have referred to in some of of our previous blogs here at SolutionLabs.

This section discusses the survey’s findings on: 

  1. Paying for parking
  2. Management
  3. Enforcement
  4. Debunking industry myths

In the next part we take a look at what the public thinks of the technology and how ethical, technological innovation can spearhead a new age of mobility in the post-pandemic and electric vehicle (EV) era.

Is all of this enough to change the UK Parking Experience? Let’s find out.

Firstly, let’s find out about the recent BPA survey.

In December 2020, the BPA published a report into the attitudes and behaviours of the parking public, commissioning ICM Unlimited to conduct a study on its behalf. 

The BPA research was conducted just before the Coronavirus pandemic swept the world. The survey offers a good insight into public opinion, at the most recent point in which life could still be considered ‘normal’.

What was the purpose of this research? 

Conor Greely, the Chair of the BPA Technology, Innovation and Research Board, said; “the aim of the research was to find out what people really think about parking. To help its members ‘improve the parking experience, change public attitudes, and bust some myths’.

A quick overview of the findings

The BPA revealed, a large majority of those surveyed recognised and understood why parking needs to be managed. Plus the social and community benefits that it provides.

  1. Paying for parking

Whether people like it or not, parking is an important income generator for local authorities. In one of our first blogs, we discussed the impact the pandemic has had on parking revenue in councils across the country.

In England, for example, income from parking has ‘fallen off a cliff’ since the pandemic began. This has forced many councils to make unprecedented cuts to services to cover growing black holes in funding. This could be as high as £2.2 billion collectively.

So what did the BPA’s survey reveal about public attitudes towards paying for parking just before the pandemic?

Cost is not the single driver for choosing a parking space

The impression you might get from the media is that most people think parking is far too expensive. Or even that the cost of parking is the primary issue for motorists. Many news outlets, particularly regional newspapers, have a propensity for publishing stories with provocative headlines. Headlines like ‘public anger over council parking fee hikes’ ‘community outraged over sky-high parking fees set by council’. 

Now, it’s true that many people are concerned about the cost of parking. Particularly those on lower incomes who may have to spend a much higher proportion of their income on parking fees. However, if you take a closer look at the data, cost is not the only area of concern.

The BPA survey found that people are frustrated at disproportionate and unfair parking fees. Particularly in regard to hospital or workplace parking. However, cost is not the single most important driver for people. 

The availability of parking, safety, and the size of the parking space, are also important.

There is good recognition of the costs of parking management too

The survey revealed that ‘a significant number of people’ recognise that effective parking management costs money. Those who are accustomed to paying for their parking tend to be more positive about this than those who are not. Demonstrating that public opinion over parking costs is more nuanced than the media might have you believe.

Most people still pay by cash

Despite the rapid growth of parking apps and contactless payments. More than three quarters of people still use cash to pay for their parking, according to the survey.

It’s worth noting, this may have changed since the pandemic began. People have been paying by card due to concerns about the theoretical risk of viral transmission via bank notes or coins. Late last year, the Bank of England said that cash poses a ‘low risk’ of spreading the Coronavirus.

In a future article, we hope to discuss how this change in consumer behaviour has affected the way people pay for parking.

  1. Parking management
The public expects parking abuse to be managed effectively

Addressing the abuse of rules and improving security and safety were highlighted as prominent issues in regard to parking management. 

In one of our earlier blogs, we spoke about the abuse of Blue Badge parking spaces. This has been exposed thanks to a longstanding campaign by DMUK (Disabled Motoring UK). The charity relaunched its Baywatch campaign to determine the level of disabled parking abuse. The campaign looked at supermarket car parks, finding that 20% (3 out of 15) disabled parking bays are abused.  

Congestion outside schools is a key issue

In previous articles, we referred to research which indicates a great deal of public concern over congestion and pollution outside schools. In November, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, revealed new plans to help combat toxic air outside schools.

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, the number of state schools with illegal levels of pollution fell by 97%. This was according to the London Assembly. However, high levels of NOx (Nitrogen Oxide, a particularly dangerous form of pollution) still occurs outside many schools in the UK capital.

The survey found that congestion outside schools was the most urgent issue.

Anti-social parking is frequently highlighted

Anti-social parking is at best a nuisance, at worst a serious danger. Common forms include abandoning a vehicle, parking on private property (such as a driveway), or obstructing a road or pavement. 

In one of our earlier articles, we talked about the prospect of a UK-wide pavement ban.

Pavement parking is a contentious topic across the UK.

Millions of people rely on it on residential streets! Particularly if they don’t have a driveway or access to a residential car park. But many people, including  members of the public, councillors and MPs have raised their concerns. Irresponsible pavement parking, particularly when it obstructs pedestrians, is a concern. The worst of those offenders have even been known to obstruct emergency services vehicles on narrow roads.

Sometimes, irresponsible pavement parking can prevent people who rely on wheelchairs or mobility scooters from being able to get around. This is clearly unacceptable.

Unsurprisingly, the survey found that the public expressed a desire to see ‘many forms of anti-social parking addressed. Including irresponsible pavement parking, parking across more than one bay, and so on.

The need for active travel is accepted widely.

Encouragingly, the BPA survey found that there was strong support for measures to help combat congestion and pollution. More than half of people surveyed said they would be willing to walk five to ten minutes between where they park and the high street – showing that there is good acceptance of active travel and policies that encourage people to walk or cycle for the ‘last mile’ of their journey.

3. Enforcement

Most people understand parking management and enforcement

The survey found that most of the respondents agreed that:

This is evidence of good public confidence in enforcement rules.

The language used in parking management and enforcement is easy to understand       

This indicates that signage and instructions are unambiguous and unlikely to cause confusion.

Ticketing & appeals process is generally well received.

Despite what you might hear in the news, this survey also indicates that, overall, there is good public confidence in the ticketing and appeals process.

And a new code of practice should help tackle unethical enforcement tactics too.

In August 2020, the Communities Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP announced that the government would crack down on rogue car parking firms by creating a new Parking Code of Practice and Framework. One of the new changes was the 10-minute grace period, which we will refer to in more detail below.

The new measures also include a mandatory Appeals Service and Appeals Charter, which will enable motorists to appeal an unfair fine and reduce it to a maximum of £20 (or zero)  if they meet the criteria (i.e. vehicle breaking down).

4. Busting the myths about the parking sector

The survey included a section on ‘Busting Myths’ about some of the parking-related stories published by the media.

Here are some examples of myths the survey uncovered:

A common sentiment among the public is that people who enforce the parking rules are ‘out to get them’, but this is far from the case  According to the survey, legislation and associated guidance state that the practice of ‘working to strict targets’ is unlawful and unacceptable.

This protects drivers from incurring a fine if they leave their parking space up to ten minutes after their ticket expires. All public sector and private parking firms now mandate this new rule. Taken from the Statutory Guidance and Codes of Practice.

However, the BPA pointed out that the share of revenue earned by operators is “generally determined by a robust competitive tendering process’. These services are provided at the market rate, and hospital trusts’ income can be reinvested into the car park and the hospital.

Parking in the UK is not always plain sailing, however

The BPA survey did find that parking can be a ‘highly frustrating issue’ for motorists and passengers. However, as we have discussed earlier, there is good public recognition of the importance of parking and the need for robust but fair enforcement and management.

Please stay tuned for part 2 of this blog, in which we will discuss the public perception of parking technology, and how technological innovation can help drive the UK’s transition from conventional parking to EV charging bays.

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