Are we being taken for a(Park and) Ride?
In mid-November we got wind of a suspiciously low key public consultation on Strategic Park and Ride for the West Midlands, conducted by the West Midlands Local Government Association on behalf of Centro.
The consultation covered both the West Midlands conurbation (the area covered by Centro) and the wider West Midlands region out as far as Shrewsbury, and Tamworth. Potential new sites and existing sites suitable for expansion were categorised as: (a) edge of conurbation (strategic) to intercept car journeys from outlying areas into the centre of the conurbation; (b) those within the conurbation; or (c) sites serving towns and cities outside the conurbation.
The Centro study identified 22 sites as being suitable for development including Longbridge, the Maypole, Brinsford, north of Wolverhampton, Hams Hall near Coleshill, and Quinton at junction 3 of the M5. The strategic sites would need to have at least 400 parking spaces to be suitable. Some of the sites identified are within the greenbelt such as that at the Maypole, which a previous public inquiry rejected, although it ruled that the site was likely to be acceptable in principle.
Park and Ride is seen by many transport planners and politicians as a cure-all for our transport woes. It gets people out of their cars, if only for part of their journey, and is generally easy to implement within the present policy framework and its politically popular because it doesnt upset the motoring lobby; its public transport where you can still use your car! Yes, you can have your cake and eat it!
Or can you? Park and Ride may reduce congestion in town and city centres by redistributing car journeys to the peripheries but research has shown that overall traffic volumes are actually increased as a result. People who may previously have caught the bus for their entire journey or walked or cycled to their local rail station will now be tempted to drive to the Park and Ride site instead.
One study showed that a staggering 40% of Park and Ride users had switched away from public transport to drive to a Park and Ride site instead (Hewett and Davis, 1996). People may even elect to drive to a more distant town with a Park and Ride facility rather than go to their nearest town which may have no such facility. And not only is there an overall increase in the number of car journeys, but according to several studies, on average they become longer (Parkhurst, 2000). So it's clear that park and ride schemes have a considerable environmental cost while doing very little to reduce car journeys either in number or duration.
have a car? Tough!"
As if this wasn't bad enough already, Park and Ride sites may undermine existing public transport services or threaten any prospects for improved services, such as the introduction of new bus routes, especially in less densely populated areas. Bus- based Park and Ride schemes usually receive financial support from local authorities often to the tune of £1.00 per parking space, so other non-Park and Ride services may suffer as a result (CPRE, 1998).
Ultimately, park and ride diminishes the choice and quality of other transport modes such as walking, cycling and non park and ride public transport. Non-car users lose out, exacerbating social exclusion and the breakdown of communities. Park and Ride subsidises car drivers and because it's artificially cheap, people are encouraged to continue to use their cars for a part of their journey even where a viable public transport alternative is otherwise available. In many cases, Park and Ride amounts to just a another way of making towns and cities more accessible by car by redistributing congestion and car parking provision from urban centres to peripheral areas where it is cheaper and easier to build.
An alternative strategy? Car parking at local stations in the Centro area is free at the moment, but how can this be fair when you consider that in a recent expansion of Park and Ride facilities at Four Oaks station, the cost worked out at £7,400 for each new parking space (not to mention the cost of continued maintenance)? If people were charged to use these facilities, the funds could be used for improving walking and cycling routes to stations, providing feeder bus services, and improving bus networks that serve less densely populated areas. Such provision would all but remove the incentive to pursue Park and Ride.
Birmingham Friends of the Earth do not think that a measure which encourages even more car journeys as Park and Ride does, has any place in a sustainable transport policy.
Transport planners and politicians seem fixated with the supposed environmental benefits of Park and Ride. Its high time the myths were exposed so please write to your councillors and MPs about the environmental costs of these schemes. You can read our full response to the consultation at www.birminghamfoe.org.uk/reports (online shortly).