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NOTES FROM BIG BEN … Are ‘Environmental’ Park BY PETER GUEST A

SHORT TIME AGO, I WROTE about the parking charge scheme in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Officials there first started thinking about this scheme

back in 2005 and introduced it in October 2009. The scheme was then abandoned in July this year following a change of council. The new council claimed that the scheme was confusing and not working, but with only a few months’ experience, onemight suspect that the decisionwasmore polit- ical than technical. Since published information about the scheme is rather thin on the ground, it is difficult to judge.

The council first introduced a program that set resident

parking permit charges according to the engine pollution that a vehicle produced. Electric cars, hybrid vehicles and other

How canmaking car ownership cheaper reduce car dependence and use?

cars with low emissions got free permits, whereas “gas guz- zlers” paid a premium.The same principlewas later extended to parkingmeter charges. The schemes were an honest attempt to influence car

choices and reduce pollution; there is some dispute about what the figures actually showhappened, but notwithstanding that, the council made the decision earlier this year to aban- don the variable meter charges, saying that the scheme had not worked. RingGo, which provided Richmond with mobile phone payment services, reported, however, that meter pay- ments made by vehicles in the least-polluting category had risen by 38%and, they claimed, this showed the scheme was a success. I think that is too simplistic.Any increase is hardly point-

ing out the success of a scheme that has as its primary pur- pose a reduction in car use. More pointedly, the borough’s meters are not the only option for parking in Richmond. Faced with higher meter charges, the drivers of vehicles with greater emissions may simply have switched to using com- peting private car parks, whilst the owners of “greener” vehi- cles took advantage of the cheaper (and now potentially easi- er to find) parkingmeters. More seriously, in terms of the principal objective of the

scheme, Kingston upon Thames town center is less than four miles from Richmond, and it is entirely possible that drivers of larger vehicles simply relocated their “retail therapy” to Kingston,where themeter charges are actually lower anyway.


If this happened, it could mean that the scheme had actually had the counter-intuitive effect of actually increasing vehicle mileage by vehi- cles with higher emission levels! Notwithstanding the decision by Richmond, which has received

large amounts of publicity, many other UK local authorities have now opted for some kind of emissions-based charging regime, either for theirmeters and car parks or their residents’permits.At least four other London boroughs have adopted the philosophy, plus the cities ofYork and Edinburgh.And most recently, the town ofMilton Keynes is plan- ning to introduce a “green” parking permit that will allow residents with low-emission vehicles to park in the town center for $50 per year instead of paying 20 cents per hour. That’s hardly a charge level that would discourage car use, I feel. Cities in theUSA, such asAustin,TX, Fresno, CA,Albuquerque and Salt Lake City have also launched simi- lar schemes. Nowthat’s an interesting thing aboutmany of these schemes.They

are promoted as part of a green agenda – designed to reduce car dependence – but again and againwhen I look behind the rhetoric, I see that the numbers tell a different story.

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