Paying for parking

First port of call or last resort? Parking cost can be critical

The amount charged for parking often determines whether or not they will visit a town centre, holiday resort or attraction

The amount charged for parking often determines whether or not they will visit a town centre, holiday resort or attraction

High streets minister Marcus Jones’s recent call for free parking in small towns may have to be extended to bigger ones, a poll of thousands of drivers suggests.

For the majority (71%), the amount charged for parking often determines whether or not they will visit a town centre, holiday resort or attraction.

For example, with Brighton charging £5-£25 for a six-hour stay at the seaside, compared to £3-£7 along the Eastbourne promenade, or £5-£8 in Southend-on-Sea, compared to £0-£6 along the front at Clacton-on-Sea, the cost of parking could decide whether or not visitors return.

Council income and operator profit

Disillusion and deep-rooted scepticism of what drives parking charges leaves 89% of 18,688 respondents to an AA-Populus poll believing that parking charges are set to maximise council income and operator company profits – rather than simply providing a service.

Limited space

Nearly nine out of every 10 (89%) are realistic enough to accept that parking is bound to be more expensive where parking space is at a premium.

Treating users badly

However, 67% of AA members feel that councils and companies that run parking often treat users badly. Nearly a third (62%) agree that there are never enough spaces and not enough is being done to improve provision.

Spaces too small

In particular, 86% of the drivers say that parking spaces are often too small for the size of the modern car.

Paying by mobile phone

This disillusion and lack of trust has tainted driver perception of council attempts to make car park charge payments more flexible, such as paying by mobile phone.

The AA-Populus survey, between 28 April and 6 May 2015, asked drivers how readily they would take to paying for parking by phone:

  • 52% - said they had no interest in paying by phone
  • 8% - said they wouldn’t pay by phone because they don’t trust it or the operators
  • 7% - would like to pay by phone but are put off by the number of different schemes, areas and operators
  • 6% - already use pay-by-phone wherever they can
  • 5% - use pay by phone locally but prefer to pay by cash in unfamiliar areas
  • 4% - are put off paying by phone because of the additional cost of registering and calls
  • 18% - haven’t come across pay-by-phone parking.

the concept of councils elected by the people to serve the people does not appear to apply to car parking

Edmund King, AA president

Overwhelming opinion

“The minister’s recent intervention chimes well with the overwhelming opinion of AA members and other drivers. He just needs to extend those sentiments to council-run parking in bigger towns,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.

Council coffers

“For the majority of drivers, the concept of councils elected by the people to serve the people does not appear to apply to car parking. The deep-rooted suspicion is that parking charges and penalties serve only one purpose – propping up council coffers.

At least it's regulated

“However, in its response to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s call for evidence on parking reform, the AA highlighted a major advantage of council parking – it is regulated, unlike private parking.”

Highlight best practice

In its response to the Government’s consultation ‘Parking reform: tackling unfair practices’, the AA was asked whether the Government should take more steps to ensure that parking supports local shops and high streets.

The AA replied that one of the problems is the inconsistency of pricing and parking provision between local authorities. It suggested that the Government could highlight examples of best practice that encourage people to drive into towns, park without threat, and then spend for the benefit of local business.

Limited free parking

The AA also highlighted the popularity of limited free parking, although far from the norm and blighted by the fear of zealous enforcement. It was also asked whether councils should be obliged to provide the means to pay by cash for parking ‘within a reasonable distance’. The AA responded: “AA members very much want this and show only mediocre support for pay by phone systems which are probably more geared to operational efficiency and revenue than customer benefit.”


(31 July 2015)