Transport Talk with Don Mackenzie: Parking costs on cards - it's easier to pay at machines

I am devoting this column to on-street parking in Harrogate town centre. It is a timely subject in view of a report coming to NYCC executive members later this summer. The report is likely to recommend an extension to on-street parking charges to include Sundays and possibly evenings.

Saturday, 18th June 2016, 7:00 am
One of the new ticket machines which will accept cards as well as coins.

First some background to this subject.

Pay and display charging started in Harrogate in 1994/5. Before that, display discs were used to limit the time vehicles could be parked on town centre streets.

Free disc parking still exists over a wide area of the town and there are no plans to change that.

Long before pay and display was introduced by NYCC, Harrogate Borough Council charged drivers to park in its car parks seven days a week, although the incentive to use these specially built car parks was low when there was free parking on the streets.

The car parks had one major advantage over disc parking – drivers could pay to park for as long as they wished, whilst disc parking was time-restricted.

Nevertheless, for traffic management reasons, the decision was taken over 20 years ago to introduce pay and display parking controls, which had the effect of encouraging drivers to use off-street car parks built specially for them.

At the same time it discouraged the growing practice of drivers circling the town looking for a free disc space, adding to the congestion which was getting worse and worse as car ownership increased, visitor numbers rose, and the population of the town grew larger.

The introduction of on-street charging also brought with it another major advantage – it encouraged the regular turnover of premium town centre parking spaces so that those who wished to drive into town to visit shops or restaurants or any other business reliant upon visitors’ spending could find a parking space easily.

Additionally, it created surpluses each year to be used to pay for improvements in bus and rail services, highways safety schemes, other measures designed to ease congestion and manage traffic, and to encourage cycling, walking and the use of public transport.

Back then, very few town centre shops would open on a Sunday. Today many do and Sundays in Harrogate town centre look like any other day of the week. Some would say that it is even busier. Indeed trying to find a free on-street parking space on a Sunday after 10am is very difficult and there are more and more cars driving round looking for a space on a day when the car parks have lots of room.

Harrogate’s recently adopted Town Centre Strategy and Masterplan stresses that the street scene could be greatly improved by getting vehicles off the roads into its underused car parks. It also recommends the use of park and ride facilities, which the town lacks.

It is against this background that the county’s highways officers will report to me and my fellow executive members on proposals to extend on-street charging.

I stress that no decisions have been taken and that, before doing so, my colleagues and I will wish to see evidence to back up the report’s recommendations.

I am fully aware that there are concerns about introducing additional parking charges, including on the part of this newspaper, and these will, of course, be taken into consideration.

There are suggestions that free disc parking on Sundays and evenings would be the solution to managing the traffic. Apart from taking us back to the unsatisfactory arrangements of 20 years ago, the costs of new signage and of rigorous enforcement would have to be met by the council taxpayer.

Earlier this month, we endorsed the allocation of £3.5m from on-street parking surpluses to help pay for twin-tracking the Harrogate-York railway line east of Knaresborough by 2019. £1m a year is also being given towards the county’s £8m bill for the concessionary fares scheme for bus pass holders. £0.5m a year will fund the preparation of bids for major schemes like a Harrogate relief road or a park and ride facility as the town’s masterplan suggests.

The surpluses have paid for new user-friendly parking ticket machines which will accept credit cards – a major advantage for our visitors who hitherto had to use coins only.

For the first time, we have allocated £100k every year to schemes to promote cycling and walking, and a further £100k a year to measures to combat air pollution in problem areas like Woodlands Corner and Bond End in Knaresborough.

The results of the traffic surveys taken in April will be published on the NYCC website later this month. The report to the executive is due to be finalised in July and published well in advance of the likely date of the executive meeting on August 16.

The process will be transparent, the meeting public.