Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Folly of 'half-price' car parking in Tooting

Whilst an understandable response to local businesses petition, unfortunately this is likely to be £35,000 of public money which could have been much better spent.

See this article:

Back in the Autumn a petition went forward from local businesses regarding car parking charges. A significant number of them are of the opinion that low cost car parking provision is essential for the well-being of the high street, and that empty car parking bays on neighbouring streets is a sign that the pricing is too high, thus deterring shoppers from their stores.

In spite of the evidence of a local report* commissioned on their behalf only a few years ago which shows over 80% of their customers, walk, use public transport and walk, or cycle and then walk into their businesses.

Less than 1 in 5 shoppers drives a car, or is a passenger in a car or van to Tooting to shop, and then, yes they walk into local businesses.

*See the report on the link below 'Tooting Town Centre Gap Analysis study 2009'


Granted not everyone walks, some people are not able to, and use mobility scooters, but the principle remains. 

I fully understand that the council needs to listen to the demands of it's residents and businesses. However I also believe, that they have a duty to evaluate the evidence, and make decisions which reflect that evidence base.

The only outcome which will be clearly measurable by the drop in car parking charges will be the number of bays which are available. Given that a minority of shoppers choose to visit Tooting in this way the difference to businesses will be negligible at best.

One result may well be an increase in the numbers of people encouraged to drive to Tooting, instead of using the excellent public transport links, and indeed walking or cycling. This will result in a less pleasant shopping experience for all as the roads become more congested, noisy and more polluted.

I want our town centre to thrive, and really want to support local businesses, as I believe the council does too. However, I do think when beliefs fly in the face of the evidence that we have a duty to challenge them and if we go ahead with trials have robust ways of measuring the outcomes. I don't know how this trial will be measured, and I'm not convinced there is a way that it can be effectively measured.

If you know how it could be, do post a comment below.

Also if you have 30mins it's well worth listening to this podcast on Freakonomics Radio 'Parking is Hell':



  1. I'm not sure I can help you with research methodology, however I can tell you that retailer concerns about cost of car parking are much the same outside London, in small market towns, as well. The mix of modes is probably quite different - the Surrey borough of Waverley for example has 85% of households with at least one car, compared with perhaps less than 50% in the Wandsworth/Tooting area, partly due to relative prosperity but also largely due to lack of viable alternatives - crap bus services and even worse cycling environment against a backdrop of lower population density.

    However, even where a smaller proportion of shoppers arrive on foot, concerns about parking cost damaging retailers are largely misplaced. There is a wealth of evidence gathered over the years, some of which is compiled in the TRL study in 2010 "Parking Measures and Policies Research Review", which tells us that it is not cost of parking which drives the vitality of a shopping district, but vice versa. Availability of parking is much more important than cost, and availability does not mean raw numbers of spaces, it means how many are available and vacant at any given point in time to be occupied. Actually, that means there needs to be a fair number of empty spaces - otherwise drivers may lose heart and go elsewhere, thinking there's no point, I can't find a parking space.

    In Haslemere, where I live, there have been grumbles about increases in parking charges but the local authority is actually setting prices for the benefit of retailers, and not just because - incidentally - they raise a surplus by doing so. You have to price parking to achieve churn. Put bluntly, a visitor who stays two hours doesn't spend twice as much as one who stays one hour, and a visitor who parks all day spends either nothing, or at least a lot less than what four 2-hour visitors, or eight 1-hour visitors, spend.

    There is of course a watershed - probably, someone who parks for 30 minutes spends a lot less than half what someone who parks for an hour spends. The Pickles/Portas notion that you need a free half-hour to encourage "popping in" is daft because with a finite supply, you should use it for people who will do more than buy a pint of milk or a newspaper.

    I do have one pracical suggestion though - could you talk a local secondary school into designing a geography, or economics, project and sending out a class of 15-16 year olds with clipboards and a questionnaire of their own devising, to do the donkey work for you? I am seriously thinking about whether I could get my daughter's AS geography class onto that - it might take major bribes I guess!

    1. Thanks Paul. You make a very good point about the availability of car parking spaces. In the podcast linked in the post, they talk about the introduction of variable rates though-out the day. This has in many places reduced the actual cost of parking, whilst increased it in certain areas. The principle being to have available car parking spaces, and to use price to create a 'market' for car parking spaces.

      However, in Tooting, with research having already been done showing that car parking is only 'needed' by less than 20% of the shoppers in Tooting, in funding this trial we are looking to improve the conditions for the needs of a minority of shoppers. Which is likely to increase demand on car parking spaces, and result in higher motor traffic flows, making the shopping experience worse for everyone.

      Andrew Gilligan spoke last night about London becoming a post-car city. See this post here - http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/londons-cycling-commissioner-sets-out.html Most shoppers in Tooting are already that, it's the street environment which has yet to catch up.

  2. It's amazing how as a society we in Britain still treat the motor car with such awe, especially in our towns and cities when clearly they are inneffecient, polluting and take up vast amounts of space and resources.

    The very last thing Tooting needs is more cars. Tooting and Balham Highstreet are often extremely congested, and the pollution levels must be incredibly high on that stretch. I always avoid that A24 as much as I can.

    I think attitudes in London will change, albeit slowly. Probably, in 10 or 20 years the retailers who have pushed for for parking bays, when seeing how Hackney or Lambeth have detered motor traffic, will see that a liveable streetscape with priority given to walking and cycling will be a far better solution for them and for everyone else in Tooting, and that the best way to revitalise town centres is to give them back to the people, not by putting in more cars!

    Councils are scared of upsetting vocal car drivers, even though they are a minority in our city.