Superficially Park and Ride seems good as cutting off a trip by a motorist at the edge of a city and reducing pollution and traffic on residential and commercial roads, is surely a good thing. Well, for people already owning a car (and car ownership weaves a special pattern into the lifestyle), having a car park provided on the edge of town to remove aggravating city driving, is really good. But wait, here’s another view:

Expecting people to drive to railway stations puts an artificial limit on the number of passengers the system can support. Car parks are expensive to build and maintain, are space-intensive, lock up valuable land near stations. The users of the system are required to own just as many cars as if public transport didn’t exist. In well-patronised rail systems around the world, most train passengers arrive at the station by feeder bus or tram, not by car; it would simply be impossible to provide enough car parking to get all these passengers there by car instead.

So how does this work in practice ? Well for Network Rail’s effort at attracting people to the Preston / Birmingham to London Euston trains, £89 million pounds was spent on car parking, this amounting to more than £24,000 per parking space. On the economic side, putting aside the possibility that the private car might become a scarcer resource in the future, will the parking spaces ever pay for themselves ?

Centro has built car parking spaces for railway stations, does not charge for them, and can present evidence to show that people have been attracted to the train who would not otherwise travel that way. However, there seems little trouble filling Birmingham’s trains, and to invest £24,000 to attract one passenger perhaps spending £400 per year on a ticket, may not be so wise.

The parking place game diverts money from other places. It is understood that some people who would never travel on a bus, will use a train. The same people will take a taxi or go by coach during holidays, so perhaps a better bus will attract someone to travel from home without including a car in their journey at all.

Real people are the test. A parking-gift beneficiary at Selly Oak Station car park revealed her travel arrangements: Bartley Green to Selly Oak by car, Selly Oak to Birmingham by train. Easily explained as although the 20 and 21 buses are fairly close and run through to University Station (for onward train travel), they are not reliable.

An unreliable bus ? An investment of £24,000 per user could certainly buy a lot of good bus service.

(The author credits PTUA of Melbourne, Australia, with the text in bold).

John Hall