On-street parking is not just about residents being able to park close to their homes: it’s about safety, fair access to a limited communal asset, and the right to clean air. Free commuter parking contributes to congestion and pollution. It also undermines public transport, including park-and-ride and rural bus services.
If we get parking controls right, we will reduce congestion and pollution; there will be less justification for building new bus lanes; more car drivers will be contributing to the costs of managing and maintaining city roads and car parks; and more people will use alternative modes of transport. Inconvenience to city residents and businesses can be minimised by tailoring neighbourhood parking schemes to local circumstances.
This paper sets out a menu of parking controls that could be used, and a new process for implementing them that allows people to experience and adjust the controls before being committed to them.
The current situation
There are currently fourteen residents’ parking zones in central Cambridge. These limit parking to residents between the hours of 9am and either 5pm or 8pm, and either six or seven days a week. The cost (2015-16) ranges from £52 to £81 per vehicle per year, with day permits for visitors costing £1.60. These zones typically include some pay-and-display parking bays and other controls limiting the hours or duration of free parking.
Extending residents’ parking requires the majority support of residents within a viable zone. Some areas have, over a number of years, tried repeatedly and failed to garner the required majority support, especially from those who do not believe they will benefit because they have off-street parking.
This process of iterative expansion of residents’ parking, common to most UK cities, invariably pushes a problem onto a new set of residents and only marginally reduces congestion. A city-wide approach is more effective and less divisive. Some cities have already demonstrated that this approach works, including Oxford, Bristol and Edinburgh: despite initial resistance, parking controls have proved to be popular with residents and beneficial to those cities.
The problem of commuter parking is now acute in many parts of the city, so a co-ordinated rather than piecemeal response is needed urgently.
Parking as a transport issue
Any review of parking controls needs to be set in the context of transport within the city, and people’s transport choices:
- The availability of free parking attracts cars into city, contributing to congestion and pollution.
- This has become more evident since the introduction in 2014 of a £1 charge to park at Park & Ride sites. According to the County Council Traffic Monitoring Report 2015, Park & Ride passenger journeys in 2015 numbered 3,183,708, a 17.6% decrease on the 2011 peak of 3,862,927. That fall equates to an average of 1,860 customer journeys per day, most of which are now being made by driving and parking in the city instead.
- All wards that do not currently have residents parking restrictions are affected, especially those within walking distance of the city centre, Addenbrooke’s, Cambridge train station and, from May 2017, Cambridge North train station.
- No figures have been published for the numbers of commuter vehicles parking on residential streets, but extrapolating from anecdotal figures it is likely to be in the low thousands.
- ‘Cruising’ in search of parking spaces adds vehicle mileage, also contributing to congestion and pollution.
- Free commuter parking competes with bus services and park-and-ride. In the worst case it makes services unviable for a commercial bus operator without public subsidy.
- Free parking also competes with council-run car parks. Nobody likes to pay to park, but city roads are expensive to manage and maintain: paying for parking is a fair way for road users to contribute to those costs.
Reducing or eliminating free commuter parking will therefore reduce congestion and pollution, and create demand for public transport. Reduced congestion in the city will make bus services more reliable. The net effect will be to start a virtuous circle of more convenient and reliable bus services attracting more passengers, creating demand for an expansion in services.
Making roads safer for all
Parking close to junctions and corners creates a hazard for all road users, especially people on foot or cycle, a fact that is recognised in Highway Code Rule 243 (“Do not stop or park opposite or within 10 metres of a junction …”). Therefore all parking provision within ten metres of a junction, blind corner or pedestrian crossing should be reviewed for removal.
This is also the ‘dooring’ danger where an inattentive occupant of a parked car opens their door in the path of someone cycling past. This is especially dangerous on busy routes where people are forced by overtaking traffic to cycle close to parked cars. All parking on busy roads, especially on the signed primary cycle network, should be reviewed for possible removal.
Types of parking controls
- Double yellow lines – easy to identify infringements.
- Single yellow lines (no parking between specified hours) – easy to identify infringements and cheaper to monitor then double yellow lines.
- Time-limited waiting with no return within a specified number of hours* – most suitable for retail and amenity parking. Davy Road in Cambridge has bays limiting parking to four hours for the benefit of visitors to Coleridge Recreation Ground; the rest of the road fills with commuter cars.
- Disc parking – same as time-limited waiting but drivers display a disc showing their time of arrival. Harrogate Borough Council and Scarborough Borough Council operate this scheme.
- Residents-only parking between specified hours (can be a one-hour restriction) – see below.
- No parking on one side of the road in the morning, the other in the afternoon – easy to identify infringements.
- No loading/unloading at any time or between specified hours.
- Restricted-use bay (e.g. for loading or buses) – see below.
*This can be challenging to monitor because the enforcement officer has to record all the vehicles parked on each pass, and identify any that were there on a previous pass. Disc parking offers a practical solution, where drivers must display their arrival time, either using a cardboard disc issued by the council or simply by writing on a piece of paper.
- Loading bay – needed for commercial and home (parcel and supermarket) deliveries; also desirable for residents when their nearest available parking is some distance from their homes (an issue if parking is removed from arterial roads).
- Car club bay – for Zipcar or other car-sharing service.
- Bus bay – for local bus services to stop.
- Coach bay – for coaches to load/unload.
There are essentially three approaches to giving residents priority access to on-street parking:
- Reserve spaces exclusively for permit holders during the day. The hours chosen depend on when there is a demand for parking from commuters, shoppers and other visitors.
- Reserve spaces exclusively for permit holders for just an hour or two during the day. This is sufficient to deter all-day parking by commuters. Wandsworth Borough Council uses this approach.
- Apply general restrictions (e.g. limited wait or pay-and-display), but grant permit holders an exemption. Oxford City Council permits residents in some zones outside the city centre (e.g. Marston South) to park without limit in 1, 2 or 3-hour limited-wait bays.
Reserving parking for residents for a single hour offers two advantages for residents:
- Visitors and contractors do not need a permit if they can avoid parking during the restricted hour.
- Permits can be cheaper because enforcement is easier.
The cost of enforcement is roughly proportional to the number of times a zone is patrolled. A one-hour restriction need only be patrolled once, which requires far fewer person-hours than existing eight- and eleven-hour restrictions, which may need to be patrolled hourly. If contiguous one-hour zones have sequential hour restrictions (Zone A: 10-11am, Zone B: 11am-noon, Zone C: noon-1pm, etc.), a single Civil Enforcement Officer can easily cover several zones in a day. It is therefore reasonable to believe that a permit in a one-hour residents parking zone would cost significantly less than a city centre permit.
If residents could register their visitors online (see Virtual permits below), they could be offered a range of prices for short to long stays, and could be valid in any or all of the following types of bays: residents-only, pay-and-display or limited-wait.
Pricing of permits
The Parking Policy Review in 2016 introduced ways that pricing of residents’ parking permits could incentivise desirable change:
- Tiered pricing for second and third cars would disincentivise owning multiple cars and could encourage greater usage of car-sharing and Zipcar-type services. Could the council signal their intention to Zipcar so that they might increase the number of cars available?
- Offering a reduced rate for low-polluting* vehicles may make sense in the short term, but could undermine efforts to reduce car ownership and usage, especially as hybrid and electric vehicles become ever more affordable.
- Consideration should be given to charging a higher rate for long or heavy vehicles.
*CO2 emission figures are not a good measure of how polluting a vehicle is as they create a bias toward diesel engines, which emit high levels of particulates, nitrous oxides and other noxious pollutants, especially on short runs.
In setting tiered permit pricing, consideration needs to be given to the growing number of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).
Permits are typically valid within a single zone so that residents and their visitors cannot park for free in other parts of the city. Businesses and self-employed workers that fall into a defined list of categories (builders and other tradesmen, estate agents, health and care workers, etc.) should be able to purchase permits that are valid city-wide. These would be more expensive than residents’ permits and would only be valid while work was being carried out. Business permits should be a distinctive colour and clearly show a contact number to report suspected abuse. (A business vehicle might also carry a resident permit if the owner lives in a residents’ parking zone.)
At least two companies offer outsourced administration of parking controls using paperless (‘virtual’) permits, which could potentially save money for the council, and hence residents:
- RingGo (which already administers online and phone payments for the city’s pay-and-display parking)
- MiPermit (used by Chelmsford, Colchester, Harlow, and many other local authorities)
Enforcement officers use a smartphone running an app that scans number plates and looks them up in real time against a database of permitted vehicle registration numbers; non-matches are flagged to the officer, who then issues a ticket and takes evidentiary photographs (as now). It should be noted that the app does not give enforcement officers access to the DVLA database, only the council’s database of registered vehicles.
Parking controls should be tailored closely to local requirements, balancing:
- safety for all road users
- convenience for residents
- convenience for businesses and their customers
- impact on traffic flows
Any new parking controls or increases in the cost of parking for residents and their visitors requires engagement by local councillors and a clear explanation of the benefits, locally and for the city. Councils must recognise that a one-size-fits-all solution is not appropriate and will not receive popular support; they must instead guide residents in defining the appropriate mix of measures for their neighbourhoods.
People typically find it easier to imagine the negative impacts of new parking controls than the positive. As parking controls are relatively cheap to implement (changing road markings and signage), it can be simpler and cheaper to try things out and let people experience the impacts before being committed to any changes.
This can be achieved using Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (see below), and we therefore propose the following implementation process:
- Council officers, in consultation with councillors, define the area within which to consider introducing new parking controls. (The City local authority boundary is not necessarily suitable because it bisects Cherry Hinton and excludes Orchard Park.)
- Council officers, in consultation with councillors, define the parking zones, aiming to achieve a balance in each zone between the number of residences without off-street parking and the availability of on-street parking spaces.
- Councils consult residents on the proposed zone boundaries, using the opportunity to engage with residents and explain the over-all plan. Residents can be reassured that the boundaries can be tweaked at a later stage.
- Councillors consult residents on what parking controls (if any) should be applied on a street-by-street basis in their parking zone. Council officers provide guidelines on what options are available, and the pros and cons of each (see below).
- Councillors consult residents and local businesses on the location of bays for commercial vehicles (see below).
- Introduce all new controls on a seven-month trial basis using an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (TRO).
- Make any minor modifications to the new controls needed to address unexpected issues, in consultation with local communities.
- Hold a referendum after six months on all parking controls (other than double-yellow lines introduced for safety reasons).
- In zones where a majority vote for continued controls, convert the Experimental TRO into a permanent TRO (and allow other TROs to lapse).
Administration and enforcement costs
Accounts for residents parking in 2014–15 were reported by the council as follows:
|On-street/IT Enforcement Cost||-£333,638|
|Back Office Staffing Costs||-£136,878|
There is a lack of clarity over how costs have been apportioned to residents parking, and it seems that revenue from penalty notices issued to vehicles parked in residents parking bays has not been included. Since by law (tested in 2013 in The Queen v The London Borough of Barnet) the revenue and costs for residents parking revenue must be ring-fenced, clarity is needed in order to determine what the true cost of permits needs to be to balance the books.
The council should budget for more civil enforcement officers in future to:
- Enforce new residents parking schemes and waiting restrictions.
- Enforce more rigorously existing waiting restrictions (yellow lines and limited wait zones) and loading restrictions, especially on arterial roads, where poor enforcement contributes to congestion. It is reasonable for residents parking permits to fund this enforcement, even in areas that do not have residents parking bays.
It has been suggested that administration and enforcement of residents parking should be funded from Council Tax rather than by the sale of permits. This would be unfair and regressive, forcing non-car owners to subsidise car owners. It would also make it difficult to incentivise residents not to own cars, or to own smaller and greener vehicles; and to incentivise residents’ visitors to use park-and-ride.
The Parking Policy Review in 2016 suggested that visitor parking could be covered by an annual permit (costing £86), limited to one per household. This would be unworkable for a few reasons:
- Anyone having building work done requires more than one permit at least some of the time.
- £86 would penalise those who have only occasional visitors.
- City residents would be incentivised to offer unlimited free parking to friends and family, or (illegally) to charge for use of their permit. Not only would this create additional competition for parking spaces, it would draw more car traffic into the city.
Careful thought should go into minimising the visual impact of parking controls, using no more yellow paint and signage than absolutely necessary. This can be achieved through compliance with only the most current Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions and appropriate use of Controlled and Restricted Zones. The Department for Transport guide Know Your Traffic Signs (p39) states, “In environmentally sensitive areas, a pale shade of yellow may be used and the width of the lines may be reduced.” See English Heritage’s paper on Parking restrictions without yellow lines for more detail.
In Cambridge, enforcement of parking and loading offences is performed by Civil Enforcement Officers (sometimes referred to as ‘traffic wardens’), employed by the County Council. In the rest of Cambridgeshire, it is the responsibility of police officers.
Police can rarely justify making parking enforcement a priority: they have insufficient resources, and police fines go to HM Treasury, not the local constabulary. This is in contrast to fines levied by Civil Enforcement Officers, which go to the local authority. Civil enforcement therefore has the potential to be self-funding. On this basis, we strongly recommend district councils in Cambridgeshire to adopt civil enforcement powers – like most of the rest of the country.
Enforcement of ‘moving-vehicle offences’ such as speeding, driving in a bus or mandatory cycle lane, or performing a banned turn, is the exclusive responsibility of the police. However they have neither the resources nor incentives to perform this enforcement. Enablement of Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 would allow civil enforcement of many of these offences, which could help reduce congestion, and improve safety for people walking and cycling.
A review of parking controls needs to check that all Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) and signage are in order so that Penalty Charge Notices cannot be contested. One area in particular that needs checking is that zigzag lines outside schools are all covered by a valid TRO.
Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) are designed for situations where a scheme’s impact is difficult to predict, or where people who will be affected are unsure or unclear about the benefits. It provides an opportunity for people to experience and tweak a scheme before it is either made permanent or withdrawn.
Paragraph 2.2 of Parliamentary Standard Note SN6013 on Traffic Regulation Orders states:
Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) are governed by The Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996.
Regulation 22 (Experimental orders) disapplies the usual consultation process for a TRO covered by Regulation 7 (Publication of proposals). Regulation 23 (Orders giving permanent effect to experimental orders) sets out how the Experimental TRO may be made permanent without further consultation, providing that all details about the order, and any subsequent modifications, have been duly documented and published.
Civil enforcement of traffic contraventions (as happens in Cambridge) is governed by Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004.