Evesham parking concessions – some figures

Wychavon District Council have kindly provided me with some figures for the number of parking tickets sold in in district-run car parks in Evesham during the period that concessionary rates were in operation, compared with the same period the previous year.

The concessionary period ran from September 2013 to April 2014. Over that time, 418,151 tickets were sold, compared to 358,021 in the equivalent period the previous year. That works out at an average of around 2,020 a day during the concessionary period, compared to 1,729 a day previously. Or, to put it another way, Wychyavon sold an average of 290 more tickets during the concession period than normal.

So, does that mean it worked? Well, maybe. On the face of it, an extra 290 cars a day in the town is an improvement. But, on the other hand, 290 isn’t a lot. It’s an increase of just over 16%.

More importantly, other statistics obtained by Wychavon have shown that there was not a significant increase in footfall in the town centre during the concessionary period. So that 16% increase in cars doesn’t seem to have translated into a 16% increase in people.

How can we explain that? There are a number of possible reasons. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few:

People who would normally have walked into town, or taken a bus, chose to drive instead, because the parking was cheaper.

People who would have scoured the town centre for free parking were more prepared to pay for it instead, as it was cheaper.

People, particularly those only parking for a short period of time, who might previously have tended to keep an eye out for the parking attendant and not buy a ticket at all if they thought there was a low enough risk of ending up with a fine, decided that the risk wasn’t worth it for 20p and bought a ticket instead.

People used the town centre car parks, but didn’t visit the town centre shops.

There may, of course, be other reasons. But it doesn’t take many different reasons for them all to add up to enough to explain the difference between the extra cars and the lack of extra people.

The other issue here, though, is revenue. I don’t know how exactly much Wychavon earned from parking over the respective priods, but we can estimate a minimum. Assuming that everyone only paid for the shortest possible time, then during the concessionary priod the revenue was £83,630.20, while previously it was £179,010.50. In reality, both figures will be higher, because not everyone will have paid for the shortest time possible. But the additional income from longer time tickets will be much greater in the normal rates than during the concession, because normally the minimum price only buys you 30 minutes whereas during the concession 20p bought you three hours.

What that means, therefore, is that Wychavon’s revenue during the concessionary period was definitely slashed by at least 50% compared to normal, but in reality probably by far more. It would not surprise me if revenue was less than a quarter of normal.

That’s an unsustainable loss, and illustrates why the prices had to go back up again once the bridge had re-opened. It also illustrates why the argument that “cut prices, and more people use it, and you’ll make more money overall” is flawed. There’s an upper bound on the number of people using car parks in Evesham, partly limited by the number of available spaces and partly by the number of people who want to use them.

It also illustrates that tweaking parking prices isn’t necessarily the answer to increasing footfall in Evesham town centre. What’s more important is giving people a reason to come. And that’s an entirely different problem to solve.

  • I don’t know Evesham at all, so it may not apply, but one often overlooked cost of providing free or very cheap parking is that spaces fill up early on with workers, leaving no space for shoppers. A lot of the smaller commercial areas in my city have this problem.

  • Noel Bearcroft

    Mark – you state that the overall cost of the parking in the town centre ran at a loss compared with “pre-bridge” costs – but it’s a loss on what ? An artificially set price for parking on a space of 2 m x 5 m – if you want to quote figures, compare the cost of parking to the cost of providing, policing and maintaining the facilities and then subtract the cost of policing it which would be unnecessary if it was a free service ! Please do not include redevelopment revenue, which is the usual next step for ‘unprofitable’ town centre land.

    • If parking was free, it would need a time limit as otherwise the parking would all be occupied by people staying all day and later arrivals wouldn’t be able to find a space. So enforcement is still necessary, even if it’s free. There are, therefore, no savings to be made on parking attendants.

      The other costs would also remain if parking was free. The most important of these are maintenance and business rates. I don’t know what the ongoing maintenance costs are, but a back of an envelope calculation based on figures from the Valuation Office Agency website suggests that Wychavon are paying something in excess of £50,000 a year on business rates on the car parks they manage. Add that to maintenance and enforcement costs and the amount is significant.

      The idea that free parking costs nothing, or practically nothing, to provide is simply false. The underlying costs of provision vary very little between paid-for and free parking. The only significant difference, in a pay and display car park, is the cost of maintaining the ticket machines. But this is trivial compared to the other fixed costs involved.

      Finally, you cannot ignore the underlying value of the land, which could be very lucrative if sold off for housing. Saying “please do not include redevelopment revenue” is just another way of saying “fiddle the figures so that they agree with me”. Wychavon cannot ignore those costs in their accounts, so neither can we when assessing the cost of parking provision.

      On a related note, free parking isn’t necessarily going to be universally welcomed anyway. As I’ve already pointed out, if it was free then it would need a time limit. And that limit would be inflexible: exceed it and you get a fine. But a significant number of people want to park for longer than that, and paid-for parking allows them to do so – they pay for what they use.

      Free parking also means that car park users are, in effect, being subsidised by people who don’t use them – people who walk, cycle or catch the bus into town. There’s a very strong argument that this is not a particularly good use of taxpayers’ money.