Travel, parking and access

When parking is such an essential service, how can your council get it right as part of the town centre experience? Part of the solution is to consider it within the wider context of all journeys into town centres including understanding how COVID-19 has affected travel patterns.

Car parking is one of the most talked about issues in town centres and frequently cited by businesses as a cause of poor performance. Improvements need to focus on the whole journey in to town, however, whilst recognising parking as a pinch-point for customers.

Managing travel and parking during post-COVID 19 recovery

During the COVID-19 recovery it will be important to evaluate changing travel patterns, including the role of parking within this. This will involve considering safe travel to town and city centres including the changing balance in modes of transport; adequacy of cycleways; possible reduced capacity limits and safe, onward pedestrian movement from car parks and other gateways such as bus stations. In some places, car parks may be temporarily put to other uses such as outdoor seating or event space, though it is important that this does not adversely affect town centre foot-flow.

The British Parking Association has produced operational advice for parking management during the COVID-19 crisis in association with London Councils and the LGA. This advice includes a social distancing and virus transmission risk assessment toolkit for local authority members.

In its May 2020 announcement of proposals to create a new era for walking and cycling, the UK Government set-out support for immediate measures and long-term planning as part of local travel networks. This includes statutory guidance for local authorities on reallocating road space in response to COVID-19; an emergency active travel fund; and intent for an updated, national Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy

This government guidance advocates against using public transport where possible during the COVID-19 crisis. Instead, it recommends to try to walk, cycle, or drive. Where use of public transport is essential, the Government guidance recommends thinking carefully about the times, routes and means of travel to have more space to stay safe

In-line with the aspirations of this toolkit, the government announcement of support for walking and cycling seeks to combine an immediate response to COVID-19, with embedding changing behaviour including greener travel habits in long-term strategy development.

Previous reluctance to invest in active travel locally, has often been prompted by fear about the economic impacts especially at the micro-level. A House of Commons briefing paper on active travel trends, policy and funding, references research from the Urban Transport Group (UTG) on the case for active travel including contributing to up to a 40% uplift in retail takings, alongside wider savings through positive health benefits. The UTG provide updates on the COVID-19 response and urban transport, including this briefing on the challenges for urban transport authorities

Cycling UK has produced this helpful guidance on how local authorities can implement active travel measures to address impact of COVID-19, quickly, safely, and affordably.

Adopting joined-up thinking

Local authorities are parking providers and many manage on-street parking. Working across council departments can help ensure that parking provision is considered in a joined-up way that relates to other responsibilities including traffic management, strategic planning and economic development. This needs to take account of how car use is changing in town and cities, for example, and how housing growth might be better planned to connect conveniently to town centres.

Reducing congestion

Town and city centre streets have evolved over centuries and traffic and congestion act as a barrier in accessing and enjoying them. Councils have a leading responsibility in alleviating this and there are examples from across the country of the steps that innovative councils are taking to reduce congestion and its impacts. The LGA report on tackling congestion in towns and cities provides case studies including the introduction of a workplace parking levy by Nottingham City Council, mobility as a service in the West Midlands and Oxfordshire’s use of big data to help people tailor their route to avoid congestion.

Changing behaviour

Part of the challenge in reducing traffic and easing parking demand is to change behaviour, reduce dependency on the car and encourage alternative ways to access the town centre. Alongside the practical examples for reducing congestion, the LGA report on tackling congestions promotes broad themes focused on convincing people to change their behaviour in the short and medium-term. These include:

  • Modernising the way roadworks are managed and coordinated so that least disruption is caused to road users and local businesses.  
  • Post pandemic and for the long-term, prioritising bus travel through a network of bus lanes in the long-term, promoting bus use through making real time passenger information, park and ride initiatives and offering on board Wi-Fi services. Councils could also consider opportunities presented by the Bus Services Act 2017 that makes it easier for councils to promote bus travel and introduce innovative partnership arrangements.
  • Encouraging cycling and walking, for example through provision of segregated infrastructure for cyclists where possible, improved on-street cycle parking and working closely with planning colleagues to ensure that new cycling infrastructure is included in developments.
  • Nottingham City Council has gone further and adopted the workplace parking levy to manage congestion and provide an income stream that helps to deliver better public transport.

Embracing technology and travel

The application of new technology through ‘smart travel’ also provides opportunities to make town and city centres more accessible and in-step with changing customer trends. Intelligent mobility is the hidden innovation that will be behind so many improvements to transport service in and between our towns and cities. Intelligent mobility brings together digital industries, transport infrastructure, vehicles and users to provide integrated and innovative services connecting different modes of transport and traffic management.  

The Government-backed Traveller Needs Study gives two examples of the potential impact of Intelligent Mobility. It is estimated that the provision of personalised journey information and the ability to reserve a parking space and be guided to it, could improve traveller satisfaction on an annual 11.6bn journeys in the UK.

Step-by-step guide to reviewing town centre parking

All too often parking providers, town centre managers, business groups and other stakeholders divide in to opposing camps when it comes to parking. It is vital to get between these parking ‘battle’ lines from an early stage and get agreement on a more integrated way of working. This will alleviate the frequent criticism received by councillors and parking managers. Within this, it is important to take a customer-led approach to parking and to understand the different needs of visitors, workers, local residents and pop-and-shop casual users.

This guidance on a suitably consultative approach to reviewing the role of parking in town centres, is based on the people, places and parking process developed by the People & Places Partnership in association with the British Parking Association. Parking provision and policy should be considered in terms of the way its quality, quantity, cost and convenience affects people’s access to town centre shops and services.

Quality: managing the parking experience

Customers’ perceptions and use of a place and its parking are influenced by the whole ‘parking journey’ from main road to final destination. A parking journey audit and ‘within car park’ review can help assess the customer experience and potential improvements for different parts of this journey, including: by car to car park; within the car park; on foot to the town centre and attractions.

Quantity: balancing parking supply and demand

It is important to understand and chart the availability of parking suited to different uses across a town and for different times so that the balance between supply and demand can be more effectively managed. Such an assessment should consider: overall provision for different locations; occupancy levels and dwell times; opportunities to influence supply and demand.

Cost: strategies to optimise revenue and usage

Setting the parking tariff (price and duration) is an essential element of managing supply and demand and ensuring footfall is not deterred. Tariffs should be determined using knowledge of: role; demand; location; competition.

Accounting for and controlling costs is equally an important of car park provision just like any business activity. This should be optimised by accounting for existing costs and considering options for reducing them including using new technology and management systems that also help improve the customer experience.

Parking policy: preparing joined-up policies and strategy

In planning future parking provision, it is important to be aware of current issues and future trends in sustainable transport planning, including: low emission and electric vehicles; cycling and walking; shared space; vehicle sharing; integrated transport; intelligent mobility; and, in the longer term, connected and autonomous vehicles.

It is important to review data on car park usage and other aspects in a systematic way and adjust future management accordingly. This can be achieved through a simple ‘data dashboard’ to assess and interpret existing available statistics whilst creating a simple and systematic process for ongoing monitoring. 

Case study

The case study of North Kesteven District Council’s approach to parking provision in Sleaford demonstrates the preparation of such an integrated parking strategy for linking quality, quantity and cost of provision with an understanding of customer needs, town centre access, placemaking and growth.

Parking smartly

Smart parking is the collective term used for innovations that can improve the customers’ experience and efficiency of parking in our towns and cities. Technology already exists to offer direction to available spaces; vehicle recognition; fully automated and ‘invisible’ payment; ability to extend stay remotely; cashless collection of payments; remote enforcement; variable tariffs according to demand; and linked discounts from destination businesses. Over the next few years as this technology will become easier to use and better integrated, the challenge will be for councils as parking providers to increase the use of such a seamless service in a way that offers the customer similar choices in different locations. 

The British Parking Association

The British Parking Association (BPA) is the ‘go to’ organisation for councils responsible for parking management. The BPA is the largest and most established professional association representing parking and traffic management in Europe and the recognised authority within the parking profession. The BPA’s diverse membership includes local authorities, private parking providers, technology developers & suppliers, equipment manufacturers, learning providers, consultants, structural & refurbishment experts.

The future of parking

The BPA’s Parking 20:20 report provides its vision for the future of parking and is available to members. The report explores trends in future intelligent mobility, show their relation to the parking profession and identify the role it can play in the future. It recognises the pivotal role of parking within this and the need for councils and other parking providers to be at the forefront of this to improve the customer’s experience.

Creating a positive agenda

The British Parking Association is supporting the ‘Positive Parking Agenda’ as a programme inspired by its local authority members which aims to change the way parking is perceived nationally including “improving access to services and the economic vitality and vibrancy of town centres and high streets”. Councils across the country are taking the lead in developing and delivering this positive agenda because of their responsibilities as parking providers and wider service provision in and around town centres.

Up-to-date COVID-19 operational advice

The BPA’s operational advice produced in association with London Councils and the LGA, will be updated as necessary throughout the COVID-19 crisis and members notified.

Case studies

Oxfordshire County Council has developed a satnav app that provides a free, two-way data exchange to share real-time traffic updates between drivers and help reduce congestion. The case study is one of several contained in the recent LGA report on tackling congestion in towns and cities.

North Kesteven District Council has prepared an integrated parking strategy for Sleaford that links quality, quantity and cost of provision with an understanding of customer needs, town centre access, placemaking and growth.