Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Things that Seem Obvious - Car Parks

In Britain, a large number of smaller shops have been shutting for many years now. The most frequently blamed culprits are big supermarkets. I, however, think the blame largely lies elsewhere.

It seems obvious that if faced with three options:
1) walk half a mile to the local shops, then half a mile back with heavy bags
2) drive half a mile to the local shops, pay £2 for parking
3) drive two miles to a big supermarket, parking is free
Most people will take option 3). And yet in lots of places, the local shops continue to close, and people blame the supermarkets. There have even been utterly mad suggestions to force supermarkets to charge for parking.

The real solution seems simple. The availability of free or very cheap parking near to shops increases their attractiveness (as does good public transport). It is therefore in the shopkeepers' interests to make sure that such parking is available. And if the council want to keep the local shops open, it is in their interests as well.

Parking in towns should therefore be controlled either by federations of local shopkeepers or by the council running it at a loss (which may pay for itself indirectly via increased land values or tax paid by the shopkeepers). Subcontracting running car parks out to profit-making firms damages local shops when there is viable competition which does not charge for the use of its car parks.

This just seems obvious...


Anonymous said...

I'm not particularly keen on encouraging car use by providing more and easier free parking. What is mad about forcing the supermarkets to charge?

John said...

I agree on the reducing car use (I delayed learning to drive for 10 years largely due to environmental reasons), but people fundamentally usually act in what they perceive to be their best interests.

If people were time rich and cash poor, and petrol was expensive, they'd walk. If public transport was good enough and cheap enough, they'd use it.

Just think about the legislation required to get supermarkets to do that! Forcing a company to charge people for doing what both parties want to do on their own land? It's like a law saying that chocolate shouldn't be buyable in blocks of more than 100g, or that buy one get one free offers are illegal...

Better than that (from the point of view of being less crazy) would be a charge for using government-owned roads to get there. But that's effectively what petrol tax already does...

Anonymous said...

The problem is that perceptions are often a long way from reality. People perceive their car to almost always be the fastest mode of transport, for instance, whereas point to point I'm usually faster round town on a bike. Yes, they then have less carrying space than in a car, but since you mentioned walking as well, I'll assume carrying space isn't an issue. People also don't perceive quite how expensive their cars are to run, because they don't have to pay maintinence bills, fuel costs etc up front every time they make a journey. Public transport can be as good and cheep as anything, and people will still cling to their misguided perceptions.

As for fuel tax and paying to use roads, the roads are hugely subsidised anyway, even with fuel at the price it's at. It makes me come over all free-market and want to directly charge people what they actually cost.

I've started commenting on your blog again. Can you tell I've got a dissertation to write?!

John said...

I coped for four years of living on my own with a bike and no car.

I'd generally agree with the stuff about charging car drivers at cost for road usage, but agree far more with charging lorries for cost of road usage. After all, they damage the road far more than my small car...

My problems when living without a car weren't so much grocery shopping (though only because I didn't mind cycling with a big rucksack). Buying cheap furniture was the big problem, along with visiting people in rural areas and having bits stolen off my bike.

Anonymous said...

Maintaining the roads is a small part of the cost to the nation of running so many cars. For example, in the last year I saw figures, the cost of clearing up after road accidents was roughly three times that gained from VED. Then there are plenty more costs to consider.

While I've heard of vicars existing without cars, I certainly see you'll need one for visiting people or if you end up looking after umpteen rural churches. However, the subject we were discussing was grocery shopping and car parks by shopping centres and not going to visit lonely people spread out across the county. As for buying furniture, some friends in cambridge decided it would be cheaper to hire a car whenever they needed to shift something big than to own one all the time. Your situation will be different, of course.